MANILA – Agriculture Secretary William Dar yesterday ordered the Sugar Regulatory Administration to come up with a position paper listing the pros and cons on the proposed sugar import liberalization, which may affect about 5 million people, as sugar industry leaders have warned.
This was after Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri at a Senate hearing yesterday urged the Department of Agriculture and SRA to make a stand on sugar import liberalization, amid what he calls their “deafening silence” on the issue.
The DOF has already formulated a draft executive order proposing import liberalization for the sugar industry modeled on the opening up of the rice market, citing its domestic prices are double compared to world market prices.
Dar appeared to be evasive after he was asked by Zubiri point blank, on the stand of DA and SRA on the issue of sugar import liberalization.
“I have the feeling that they are under pressure from the finance managers who seem to be dictating the policy when it comes to movements in the government programs and projects,” Zubiri said yesterday after presenting the state of the sugar industry to Dar, during the Senate deliberationon the DA budget.
The initial reaction of Dar was very cautious. “I don’t think he wants to ruffle feathers”, Zubirii said. But he reminded Dar that being a secretary of all the farmers, we must come out strongly with a position (on the issue), in order to convince economic managers that they are taking the wrong position.
Senator Cynthia Villar, who presided over the Senate budget deliberations, also scored government agencies, who are supposed to be protectors of farmers, for appearing to be on the side of traders, who are lobbying for the sugar import liberalization.
Villar also blamed the reduction of SIDA (Sugarcane Industry Development Act), which she authored in the Senate, from P2 billion to P500 million in 2020 to underspending.
Zubiri said he will form a group, composed of himself, Villar, SRA chief Hermenigildo Serafica and the Sugar Board members, and Dar, to meet with the secretaries of Budget and Management, Finance, Trade and Industry and the National Economic Development Authority and Executive secretary, Salvador Medialdia, to discuss the proposed sugar import liberalization.
“We will show to them that sugar farmers, who now own land holdings five hectares and below, are not the same 40 years ago”, Zubiri said, noting that they hardly recover due to the high cost of fertilizers, among other farm inputs.
Zubiri is also proposing that the sugar quota for the United States should be foregone for at least 10 years, to address the supply shortfall for domestic consumption.
Zubiri pushed for the re-allocation of “A” sugar or US Quota Sugar to “B” sugar for domestic use since the country is falling short in sugar production.
Instead of exporting it to US, he said, it should be allocated to industrial users, who are lobbying for the sugar industry llberalization, he said, in order to appease them.
“It doesn’t make sense to export 105,000 metric tons to the United States, which appears not in need of our sugar, while we have a shortfall of 300,000 metric tons in the country,” he added.
By doing this, liberalization may no longer be pushed through by industrial users, Zubiri said.
SRA chief Hermenegildo Serafica said that they are doing a balancing act on what is good for the farmers and consumers, when asked about their stand on sugar import liberalization.
He said SRA will not allow importation of sugar, as long as there is an abundance of supply.
Serafica said that the sugar industry is faced with so many problems, not only in bureaucratic processes, but also normal road blocks, which they are now addressing.
As to the giving of US quota allocation to industrial users, Serafica said that he would not preempt thedecision of theSugar Board, stressing that he is only one among its members.*
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