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Sugar planters too crying against favored traders

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - April 21, 2021 - 12:00am

There are rumblings in the sugar industry. Planters are decrying the Department of Agriculture’s favoring import-export traders. They allege that they are being forced to export, at cheaper than market rates. That worsens the yearly production shortage. Then they can only watch as the same exporters consequently import sugar to cover local demand.

Is the bias widespread against domestic producers? Hog raisers are groaning because the administration will excessively import pork for a year, at drastically reduced tariffs at that. Earlier, tilapia growers exposed an attempt by DA bureaucrats to allow imports of stocks from China. And poultry men and feed makers reeled from nonstop chicken imports and smuggling.

Lawmakers need to scrutinize agriculture policy. Some senators already suspect kickbacks by DA officials and ruling politicos fundraising for Election 2022.

Sugar planters expect a production shortage of 307,000 tons this year. As usual, however, they will be made to export five to nine percent of stocks to America. That’s at P300 lower than prevailing market rates, laments planter-miller Steven Chan. Four big-name exporters will make a killing.

It doesn’t end there, says Chan. The same exporters will then import at very low price the 307,000-ton shortage, plus the exported volume. They make another killing.

Planters are also required to stow another five to nine percent as domestic emergency buffer. Plus another five to nine percent for export to the rest of the world market. Milling of those stocks can only be done with government go-signal. A third scam occurs, says Chan. Part of those is again forcibly allocated to the traders, for more windfall profits.

All those are based on rules of the Sugar Regulatory Administration. Chan alleges that the “cartel” is able to influence the agency.

Other planters and millers are moaning. But afraid of the import-export traders’ clout, they cannot come out openly, one of them says. “In many cases, the traders also lend the planters capital, like for farm mechanization, which makes them indebted,” adds another planter from Bacolod.

The situation has been going on for at least eight years, Chan says. Diminishing land hectarage devoted to sugar cane causes it. As well, inefficient production resulting from the parceling of large plantations to land reform beneficiaries. “Land is non-renewable yet demand grows with the population,” says Chan, chairman of Central Azucarera de Bais and president of Central Azucarera de San Antonio.

Chan has been taking out newspaper ads detailing the issues. He also complained to DA Secretary William Dar as far back as September 2020.

As chairman of the SRA Sugar Board, Dar took issue with Chan’s figures in November. The Sugar Board allocated exports to the US on determining a surplus for crop year 2020-2021, he said.

“The various sugar producers’ associations and federations across the country arrived at the same conclusion as the SRA: that the country will have surplus production,” Dar replied. Thus, the recommended export to America. “It is outlandish to consider that these associations and federations – which represent close to 90 percent of total raw production – were flawed... the rest of the country has taken a similar position and you are the only one opposed to it.”

The SRA conceals figures from the public, Chan alleges. Weekly supply and demand figures are posted on the agency website. But only a fraction of the imports is reported, he says, “only the 22,528.85 tons covered by sugar orders.”

“But exclusive for the cartel’s eyes only” are undisclosed weekly figures that Chan obtained from the agency. “You will see that 8,892 tons of specialty sugars, 87,145 tons of premix sugars and 115,585 tons of high-fructose corn syrup imports are now included. This is how the public is fooled about the real shortage.”

A Senate inquiry can flesh out Chan’s allegations that are backed by figures from the 2015-2016 to 2019-2020 crop years. Local officials and newsmen from Negros support him.

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“Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity.” Simply subscribe to my newsletter at https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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