Lawmakers junk proposal to liberalize sugar industry
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — All lawmakers in the Senate are junking the economic managers’ plan to open up the sugar industry to importation as such a move runs contrary to President Duterte’s thrust towards food security.

In a resolution, 22 senators unanimously urged the Executive department not to pursue the planned liberalization of the sugar industry with the end in view of safeguarding the welfare of sugar farmers and industry workers in more than 20 provinces.

Senate Resolution 213 was signed by all 22 lawmakers, except Sen. Lito Lapid who is on official business trip abroad and Sen. Leila de Lima who is still detained.

“The plan will contradict the President’s thrust towards food security and will severely affect the entire agriculture sector,” the resolution read.

This, after the Department of Finance called for replacement or removal of quantitative restrictions and paving the way for the liberalization of sugar importation. Early this year, the government already hinted on the liberalization of the industry.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, one of the most vocal against the liberalization, noted that as long as they are in the Senate, they will support and protect the industry.

“We also urge the economic managers to conduct proper consultation before announcing such plans because it has led to much anxiety (among stakeholders),” Zubiri said.

“Instead of focusing their (economic managers) sights on liberalizing the sugar industry, I suggest that they help us by ensuring the restoration of the full SIDA (Sugar Industry Development Act) budget in order to make our industry competitive globally,” he said.

Reacting to the resolution, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said he “will see to it that the sugar industry will be more productive, competitive, and profitable.”

“The catch up plan is under formulation by SRA (Sugar Regulatory Administration) and will be finished within the month,” Dar said in text message.

SRA board member for the planters side, Dino Yulo, said the Senate support would help allay fears of stakeholders “that the proposed liberalization of the sugar industry will not only be suspended for six months to a year, but will never happen.”

Liberalization is being pushed on the premise that local sugar prices are higher than those in the world market, making local prices and sugar-containing food products for export uncompetitive.

Senators maintain that liberalization will not affect the competitiveness of sugar-containing food products because it is already a policy of the SRA to allow food exporters to openly import sugar without added tax provided that the end-product is exported and not sold locally.

Liberalization is said to be disastrous to the industry which contributes an estimated P96 billion to the national economy, involves 84,000 farmers and 720,000 industry workers.

If the sugar industry collapses as a result of liberalization, poverty incidence in the provinces will increase and they will become the hotbed of insurgency and criminality.

The lawmakers also emphasized that the SIDA was enacted into law to promote the competitiveness of the industry and maximize the utilization of sugarcane resources.

“The SIDA is barely four years into effect and much of the programs it envisions to implement for the development of the industry are not yet fully realized, thus any plan of liberalizing it becomes irrelevant and very untimely,” they said.

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