Sugar Council junks sugar importation plan

By Dolly Yasa

BACOLOD City – Members of the Sugar Council expressed their strong objection to the proposal of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to allow traders to import more sugar to address low millgate prices.

The Sugar Council on Monday sent a letter to SRA Administrator Pablo Luis S. Azcona expressing serious concern over a proposal to address low millgate prices by allowing traders to import even more sugar.

The council’s objection stems from popular understanding among sugarcane farmers that sugar importation caused the low millgate prices in the first place, the Sugar Council said in the press statement.

“Even as we all agree on the need for timely and appropriate intervention at this time, we feel that your proposed traders program is inopportune. The prevailing perception of farmers, that millgate prices have dropped because of over-importation and predatory pricing, puts in serious question any program that suggests even more trader intervention and importation. Therefore, to insist on it would be adding insult to injury,” part of the letter read.

The Sugar Council is a unity coalition of three sugarcane producers federations, namely the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations, Inc. (CONFED), the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, Inc. (NFSP), and Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers, Inc. (PANAYFED).

Together, they account for over 66% of sugar produced by affiliated sugar producer associations throughout the country.

“We expressed clear, unequivocal objection to more sugar importation. It’s not as if there is no better alternative, because there is, and it has been on the table since early this year,” CONFED President Aurelio Gerardo J. Valderrama Jr., said referring to the government intervention plan, which the Sugar Council supports.

“The Sugar Council proposed a government intervention solution to Agriculture Sec. Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr., back on Jan. 9, and the Secretary ordered the SRA to conduct a technical working group meeting to iron out the details. Instead of creating a TWG, SRA pushed a new plan, involving traders again, and importation again,” Valderrama further said.

The Sugar Council considers the two proposals – government intervention vs. more sugar importation – diametrically opposed.

“On one hand, we know very well that over-importation got us in the mess we are in today, so agreeing to more importation is suicidal. As leaders of our federations, we are expected to lead our members out of problem situations, so doing more of the same thing is not an option for us. On the other hand, government intervention is designed to fix low millgate prices without trader participation nor sugar importation,” they further said.

“The choice is clear. And by choosing the latter SRA will solve the problem and win the goodwill of thousands of sugarcane farmers throughout the country,” said PANAYFED President Danilo A. Abelita.

NFSP President Enrique D. Rojas, the longest-sitting president of the longest-existing federation in the entire country, expressed disbelief.

“In all the time I served my federation, 25 years as President and, prior to that, 30 years as Executive Vice-President, this has to be one of the biggest problems to face our industry,” the NFSP president said.

He went on to question why the SRA cast aside the plan for government intervention.

“SRA could have started it already. Administrator Azcona said that, way back in November last year, he was given P5 Billion to solve the problem of low millgate prices. So why did the SRA suddenly turn around and propose a new plan, one that is highly contested because it calls for even more sugar importation? It is just delaying the delivery of government help,” Rojas pointed out.

Rojas argued, “SRA should not change horses in midstream. Harvesting is almost done in many areas. Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo?”

The Sugar Council’s letter to SRA Administrator Azcona asked for an update on the government intervention plan, praying for the agency to reconsider its position by abandoning the idea of more importation and trader participation, and instead fast-tracking implementation of the government intervention plan.

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