No to direct sugar importation by beverage firms – UNIFED

UNIFED President Manual Lamata*

The United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines (UNIFED) is appealing to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to deny the request of beverage companies to directly import sugar for their needs.

UNIFED President Manual Lamata said in a press release on Sunday, March 26, that he got wind of a request of Coca Cola Beverages Philippines Inc., Pepsi-Cola Products Philippines Inc., ARC Refreshments Corporation, Nestle Philippines Inc., Alaska Milk Corporation, and Monde Nissin Corporation to meet with the president to allow industrial users to “directly import premium refined sugar.”

In a letter dated March 22, addressed to Marcos in his capacity as head of the Department of Agriculture, the beverage companies complained about sugar supply, high price and alleged “outright refusal” of traders to “provide price quotes to industrial buyers.”

The letter was signed by Gareth Mc Geown, president and CEO of Coca Cola, Frederick Dy Ong, president and CEO of Pepsi, Jeffrey Yao, director of ARC, Kais Marzouki, chair and CEO of Nestle, Tarang Gupta, managing director of Alaska and Henry Soesanto, CEO of Monde Nissin.

In their letter, they urged the president to “consider available options that will allow industrials to directly import premium refined sugar to address the shortage and stabilize prices of domestic sugar,” and in order to “prevent future supply crises, we propose that importation be used to create a buffer stock for at least one quarter,” and “prices for imports for sale in the Philippines should be pegged closer to world market price.”

Lamata attacked the industrial users saying, “This is sheer greed from the likes of Coca Cola who has amassed fortune from us Filipinos who patronize their products. This lobby to allow them to import directly will affect the more than 5 million stakeholders of the sugar industry who are ironically their consumers as well.”

“These beverage companies should be buying local sugar because we buy their local products as well and I hope President Marcos will continue to have his heart and protect the farmers from these greedy companies,” Lamata said.

In their letter, the companies claim they comprise over 90 percent of industrial users and have concerns to present to the president including sugar scarcity, quality and sugar pricing in the country that allegedly threatens their business operations and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of workers.

To this, Lamata said “these companies have earned billions of revenues from us Filipinos, they can surely protect their workers and their interests for decades to come. However, allowing them to directly import now will not just kill the sugar industry but kill the millions who are dependent on this industry just so they can further enrich themselves at our expense.”

Lamata said an importation program has been signed by the president already “so what scarcity of supply are they still talking about? This is nothing but pure greed from multinationals who continue to prey on us Filipino consumers.”

They even had the guts to issue a veiled threat that since they are top taxpayers and contributors to the national economy with their P40 billion per year contribution, their ability to sustain such level of contribution can only be sustained if we are able to prevent production challenges brought about by sugar scarcity occurring anew, Lamata said, quoting the claims of the companies in their letter.

“That amount shows how big these industries are and have in fact lobby money to spread around and we can see their influence from pronouncements of their defenders picturing them as victims of circumstance,” Lamata said.

While he admitted that there is indeed a need to import, “the national government has already addressed this to keep a balance between killing the sugar industry outright and providing for these companies’ needs. This is simply a case of give them your hand, they now demand for the whole arm.”

Lamata added this is “not surprising as these companies have always been known for their greed and we have to stand up against them,” as he urged stakeholders of the industry to “unite now.”

“We continue to have faith in the President and we know his heart is for the farmers, for those who continue to toil our fields, for those who have been born, raised and continue to protect the sugar industry,” he added.*

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