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SRA Board OKs 440,000 MT of sugar imports

MANILA, Philippines, February 15 ------ The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Board has approved a sugar importation plan of 440,000 metric tons of refined sugar, meant to bump up supply and stabilize prices of the sweetener this year.

The approved volume, which was within the 400,000-450,000 MT range proposed last month, was approved during the SRA Board meeting, SRA Board member-planters’ representative Pablo Luis Azcona said in a phone interview.

When asked about the Sugar Order, he said this is still for publication and will be released by the Office of the President. “It’s now approved and signed by the SRA Board but it still has to pass through Malacañang for final issuance,” the board member said. Of the total amount, Azcona said 200,000 MT will be allocated for end-users while 240,000 MT will be set as two-month buffer stock. “The forecasted consumption is 120,000 MT per month, so that will cover the two-month buffer stock,” he said.

Reacting to the approved importation plan, United Sugar Producers Federation president Manuel Lamata said this would hopefully pull down retail prices of sugar. “I am supporting the importation of 440,000 MT of refined sugar. That should bring down retail prices to a reasonable price because there is no more speculation by the traders,” he said. Once imported, the refined sugar allocated for end-users should be released immediately to reduce prices. “The buffer stock of 240,000 MT should be released… after the harvest season is over,” Lamata said.

Last month, soft drinks manufacturers asked President Marcos “to put in place a supplemental importation program in the first quarter of 2023” to prevent another sugar crisis and stabilize sugar prices. Sugar planters’ groups said they recognized that there is a projected shortage in domestic sugar production versus consumption at the onset of the milling season. However, the sugar industry urged the SRA to provide safeguards to ensure that the volume and arrival of the buffer stock will be calibrated so as not to depress domestic millgate prices.

The Confederation of Sugar Producers Association earlier said the importation volume should be composed of 300,000 MT refined sugar and 50,000 MT raw sugar to arrive not earlier than July. The National Federation of Sugarcane Planters and Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers, on the other hand, were pushing for the importation of only 350,000 MT to arrive in two tranches of 175,000 MT each in July and August.

With the rampant smuggling in the country, Sen. Cynthia Villar is pushing for the creation of an anti-agricultural smuggling court. The Senate committee on agriculture, food and agrarian reform chaired by Villar also recommended the setting up of an “Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Task Force” to serve and protect the entire agricultural sector, not only the onion industry. “It is high time that we have an Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Task Force and Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Court. With these in place, we will have a watchdog in the agricultural sector to ensure that whoever manipulates the price of agricultural commodities to the detriment of the small farmers and consumers will be brought to justice accordingly. Gone are the days when we are always at the mercy of these cartels,” Villar said.

To give the task force the muscle to bring these smugglers, profiteers and hoarders to justice, a Special Court was proposed to be created to specifically try and hear economic sabotage cases with a special team of prosecutors to assist the task force in the expeditious prosecution. In response to the smuggling issues that hounded the Department of Agriculture, the committee also recommended the amendment of Republic Act No. 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 to include profiteering, hoarding and engaging in a cartel in addition to smuggling in its list of crimes involving economic sabotage.

“I will make the amendment to the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act to be explicit and very specific so that there will be no room for the implementers to interpret the intent and spirit of the law through the Implementing Rules and Regulations. We will include hoarding, profiteering and engaging in cartels as forms of economic sabotage, and we will also increase the penalty under this law,” Villar added.

She also reiterated the digitalization of customs transaction through the implementation of the National Single Window as provided for in the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act.



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