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UNIFED counters sugar importation claims

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• GILBERT P. BAYORAN

The United Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED) yesterday debunked the claims of the Sugar Council, which is composed of three sugar federations, that the Sugar Regulatory Administration plans to import sugar.

There is no importation, contrary to their claims, stressed UNIFED president Manuel Lamata in a statement.

We cannot wait and indulge the caprices of opposing sugar groups who seem bent to divide the sugar industry at the expense of our sugar farmers, who are waiting for the full implementation of the government intervention, Lamata said.

In the issued statement, he further said that the Sugar Council opposed a second program where traders will purchase local sugar, and be put on reserve, in addition to the initial P5 billion buy-back local sugar scheme from the national government.

The Sugar Council, a coalition of the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations Inc. (CONFED), National Federation of Sugarcane Planters Inc. (NFSP), and Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers Inc. (PANAYFED), however, asserted in a statement it issued last night, that “the SRA’s proposed sugar order has a provision for sugar importation. Sec. 3.9 of the draft Special Order, a copy of which was received by members of the Sugar Council on Feb. 1 this year.”

According to the Council, it states “Participants who purchased locally produced raw sugar under this Sugar Order and who has complied with all the conditions stated S.O.___, Series of 2022-2023/p.3 herein may be given priority in the government importation program, on the basis of the volume of raw sugar purchased under this Order, if and when the need for sugar importation arises; such that, for every 75 kilos of raw sugar purchased under this Sugar Order, the participating eligible Trader/Importer may be given preference in the importation of an equivalent of 50 kilos of refined sugar.”

While the section says in part, “if and when the need for sugar importation arises…” the question is begged – why even mention it if there is no intention to import? the Sugar Council further said, noting  that there is an over-supply of refined sugar at this time.

The Sugar Council also challenged SRA to make a declaration that there will be no more sugar importation this year.

In a statement, Lamata said that the UNIFED, Asociacion de Agricultores de la Carlota y Pontevedra Inc. (AALCPI) which remains the largest independent sugar planters group in the country, and LuzonFed, are in full support of the government intervention that was discussed with Agriculture Sec. Francisco Tiu Laurel and Sugar Regulatory Administrator Pablo Azcona.

He added that their group, including sugar planter Mike Hinojales, who handles one of the biggest sugar landholdings in the country, are “thankful to President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. who listened and answered their appeal to help our farmers, amidst declining sugar prices.”

In separate statements, AALCPI President Roberto Cuenca, LuzonFed’s Board led by President Cornelio Toreja, and Hinojales endorsed the proposed draft of a sugar order discussed during the SRA meeting with their own requests for SRA to allocate between 20-30 percent of quedans issued prior to the effectivity of the program, so that the farmers can enjoy the benefits of the Sugar Order.

The proposal covers the limited volume purchase of locally produced sugar for reclassification to reserve sugar to avail of allocation for the next import program, the intention of which is to uplift farmgate prices to a better and stable level while ensuring optimal retail prices.

On the other hand, Lamata further said the Sugar Council “shunned” the meeting called for by SRA on Jan. 25 in Bacolod City. Instead, he added, they sent representatives with the advice not to present any position on behalf of their federations.

“I am stumped, why do these other federations called the ‘student council’ not want sugar prices to go up? What gives? Have they become traders or are working for traders? They are trying to come up with delaying tactics which will result in a longer waiting game for our already suffering sugar farmers,” Lamata said.

The Council responded “In truth, of the 10 people named in the invitation, only three actually came. Four sent representatives and three others were not present at all. In other words, that meeting was not stymied by an intentional “boycott” of the Council, as some quarters suggest, but by miscommunication.”

Clearly, the invitation did not say that it was a TWG (Technical Working Group) meeting. It also did not invite technical consultants, they said.*

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