By Dominique Gabriel G. Bañaga
The ongoing debate surrounding the sugar industry took a sharp turn as the Sugar Council challenged the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) over the whereabouts of the pledged P5 billion and the proposed sugar importation.
In the latest statement by the Confederation of Sugar Producers Association, Inc. (Confed), they asserted that the SRA’s proposed Sugar Order (SO) has a provision for the sugar importation plan.
Confed said Section 3.9 of the draft Sugar Order, a copy of which was received by members of the Sugar Council on February 1, reads: “Participants who purchased locally-produced raw sugar under this Sugar Order and who have complied with all the conditions, 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?” Confed asked.
The Sugar Council further asserted, considering the oversupply of refined sugar at the time, the SRA would do well to declare that there will be no more importation for the rest of 2024.
The group challenged the SRA to make a declaration, pointing out that numbers from the SRA’s website, including current production and consumption trends, indicate that there will be enough sugar available to provide even a buffer stock for later in the year.
The Sugar Council — comprising Confed, the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, Inc. (NFSP), and Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers, Inc. (PanayFed) — said they emphasized unity in advocating for the interests of both large and small sugar farmers.
“Ever since the effects of Sugar Orders 6 and 7, series of 2022-2023, were felt through plummeting millgate prices, the Sugar Council has been relentless in seeking ways to work with government, including Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr.,” the group said.
The Sugar Council pointed out that they realized that the P5 billion pledged by the national government, while deeply appreciated, would not be enough to absorb the appropriate volume of excess inventory.
In fact, P12 billion was needed if the purchase of locally-produced sugar by a government agency was to have a significant effect on the market.
“This was the key message the Council delivered to Secretary Laurel. Compare that to the draft Sugar Order that has to use import allocation privileges as a come-on to entice traders to buy locally-produced sugar at a verbally-promised premium price. At the onset, the traders’ proposal is privileged with having a draft SO, albeit compromised, while the P5 [billion] or P12 billion government buying program sits in limbo. So who is against the sugar farmers? Certainly not the Sugar Council,” they added.
The group also affirmed that the heads of the Sugar Council did not attend the meeting organized by the SRA last January 25, sending out their representatives instead.
However, they pointed out that of the 10 people named in the invitation, only three actually came, while four sent representatives and three others were not present at all.
“That meeting was not stymied by an intentional ‘boycott’ of the council, as some quarters suggest, but by miscommunication,” they pointed out.
The group also said the statement made by United Sugar Producers Federation (Unifed) president Manuel Lamata labeling their group as “students, or pink minded” was regrettable, adding that just because they hold opposing views to those who propose more trader intervention in exchange for more importation.
“We have offered what we think will help solve the problem. We have expressed our misgivings about the so-called trader proposal, and we now leave the matter in SRA’s hands,” they added.
Earlier, Unifed lashed out at the Sugar Council, as they claimed that there was no proposal to import additional sugar to address low millgate prices.
In a statement, Lamata said they cannot wait and indulge in the caprices of opposing sugar groups who seem bent on dividing the sugar industry at the expense of sugar farmers, who are waiting for the full implementation of the government intervention.
Lamata also responded to the Sugar Council’s claims stating that there is no importation.
“I am stumped as to why these other federations do not want sugar prices to go up. What gives? Have they become traders, or are they working for traders? They are trying to come up with delaying tactics that will result in a longer waiting game for our already suffering sugar farmers,” Lamata said./DGB, WDJ