EDITORIAL - Beyond price aspirations

The Philippine Star

The 150,000 metric tons of imported refined white sugar were supposed to have arrived by Nov. 15, with the imports equally divided between industrial users and ordinary consumers. The local sugar harvest and milling season has also started.

Yet retail prices refuse to come down, hovering between P90 to P110 per kilo except in the few Kadiwa stores where refined white sugar is available at one kilo per customer for P70 – the ideal price set by the government. A few major supermarket chains also have limited supplies of their house brand white sugar at P70 a kilo, with customers limited to a kilo each.

Why do the prices refuse to come down, after their yearlong surge? Will consumers ever feel the impact of more refined white sugar supplies entering the market? Are measures being implemented to stabilize prices and supply? Such questions have raised suspicions that sheer greed among certain long-coddled sectors in the sugar industry is driving prices into the stratosphere.

Meanwhile, prices of another basic food item, red onions, are also so high they can make you cry. A few months ago as institutional users and wet markets alike reported a shortage of white onions, agriculture producers had warned that importations might be necessary since the third quarter is normally a lean season for domestic onion production, with the next harvest expected no earlier than January next year. But the government saw no need to import white onions, saying people could just use red onions instead.

Even if not all consumers heeded the advice, the shift from white to red must have significantly raised the normal national demand for red onions. Despite a good harvest this year, prices began soaring. Only a supply shortage can drive red onion prices to the current eye-watering P300 a kilo in wet markets – about double the retail price suggested by the government, with some quarters warning that it could go even higher, to P400. And there’s no white onion to be found.

Whether the food price surges are due to genuine shortages or artificially engineered by lowlife players in the industry, we may never know. Some quarters are wondering what has happened to the planned inventory of the country’s sugar stocks.

Planters said they had been urging the Sugar Regulatory Administration to conduct such an inventory, not only to ensure a stable supply but also to provide a reliable source of information for industry players. Technology has made this task easier, with drones and computers now being used for the purpose in several countries.

With inflation at a 14-year high and experts warning of worse times ahead, lowering the prices of basic food items cannot remain in the realm of aspiration.


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