EDITORIAL - Next, âunliâ sugar imports?
EDITORIAL - Next, ‘unli’ sugar imports?
(The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2019 - 12:00am

Following the enactment of the law allowing “unli” rice importation, economic managers now want a similar measure for the sugar industry. The proponents reportedly want the industry to become globally competitive while at the same time bringing down sugar prices.

Seeing the impact of rice tariffication on farmers, however, stakeholders in the sugar industry are warning that the proposal could spell the death of local sugar production.

After nearly a year of rice import liberalization, even economic managers have conceded that rice prices have gone down, but not enough considering the amount of rice that has been brought in from several other countries. The Philippines, according to a recent report, has now overtaken China as the world’s largest importer of rice. This should have translated into larger price cuts, but it hasn’t happened.

In the meantime, the buying price for palay has dropped to levels below farmers’ cost of producing the country’s staple. Rice farmers see a crisis in their livelihood, and agriculture experts are reiterating their warning that the flood of cheap imported rice could kill local production of the grain. Peasant groups count about 2.7 million rice farmers nationwide. If on average, each farmer belongs to a family of five, that’s 13.5 million Filipinos suffering from the precipitous drop in palay prices.

With these developments in mind, local sugar producers as well as the Sugar Regulatory Administration are vigorously opposing the proposal to flood the country with imported sugar. Lawmakers say liberalizing the importation of sugar will affect, directly and indirectly, an estimated five million people in 20 sugar-producing provinces.

Unlike in the case of rice, lawmakers are cool to the liberalization of the sugar industry. Last Monday, 22 senators signed a resolution urging the executive branch to drop the proposed liberalization, warning that it would serve as the “nail that would seal the coffin” of the sugar industry.

Sugar-producing provinces have long been hotbeds of peasant unrest. The problem is certain to get worse with the collapse of the sugar industry.

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