Sugar Council: SRA’s proposed order has provision for importation

Sugar workers in Negros Occidental.*Ronnie Baldonado photo

The Sugar Council on Wednesday, February 7, maintained that the Sugar Regulatory Administration’s proposed sugar order has a provision for sugar importation.

Sec. 3.9 of the draft SO, a copy of which was received by members of the Sugar Council on February 1 reads: “Participants who purchased locally produced raw sugar under this Sugar Order and who has complied with all the conditions stated S.O._, Series of 2022-2023/p.3 herein may be given priority in the government importation program, on the basis of the volume of raw sugar purchased under this Order, if and when the need for sugar importation arises; such that, for every 75 kilos of raw sugar purchased under this Sugar Order, the participating eligible Trader/Importer may be given preference in the importation of an equivalent of 50 kilos of refined sugar”, it said.

While the section says in part, “if and when the need for sugar importation arises…”, the question is begged – why even mention it if there is no intention to import? the Sugar Council asked in a press statement.

The Sugar Council said considering the over-supply of refined sugar at this time, SRA would do well to declare that there will be no more importation for the rest of 2024.

The Sugar Council challenges the SRA to make this declaration. Numbers from the SRA website, including current production and consumption trends, indicate that there will be enough sugar available to provide even a buffer stock for later in the year, it said.

It said a press statement was released to media on February 7 stating that the Sugar Council seems “bent to divide the sugar industry at the expense of sugar farmers….” but nothing can be further from the truth.

The Sugar Council is the embodiment of unity. It is a coalition of three sugarcane producers’ federations, namely, the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations Inc. (CONFED), the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters Inc. (NFSP), and Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers Inc. (PANAYFED).

The coalition is founded on the need to speak with one voice – candidly if necessary – precisely to promote the interests of the sugar farmers, both big and small, the Sugar Council said.

Ever since the effects of Sugar Orders 6 and 7, Series of 2022-2023, were felt through plummeting millgate prices, the Sugar Council said it has been relentless in seeking ways to work with government, including Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr.

It was the Sugar Council that realized that the P5 Billion pledged by the national government – while deeply appreciated – would not be enough to absorb the appropriate volume of excess inventory, that in fact P12 billion was needed if the purchase of locally produced sugar by a government agency were to have a significant effect on the market, its press statement said.

Compare that to the draft SO that has to use import allocation “privileges” as a come-on to entice traders to buy locally-produced sugar at a verbally-promised premium price, the Sugar Council said.

“At the onset, the “traders’ proposal” is privileged with having a draft SO, albeit compromised, while the PhP5/12B government buying program sits in limbo. So who is against the sugar farmers? Certainly not the Sugar Council, the press statement said.

Relatedly, the term “government intervention” needs to be clarified: it is intervention done by government, not by traders. That should be self-explanatory to all students of the sugar industry, it added.

A meeting organized by the SRA on January 25, supposedly a Technical Working Group Meeting to discuss the details of the government intervention, was not attended by the presidents of the Sugar Council, namely, Aurelio Gerardo J. Valderrama, Jr., of CONFED, Enrique D. Rojas of NFSP, and Danilo A. Abelita of PANAYFED. Instead, they sent representatives.

In truth, of the 10 people named in the invitation, only three actually came. Four sent representatives and three others were not present at all. In other words, that meeting was not stymied by an intentional “boycott” of the Council, as some quarters suggest, but by miscommunication, the Sugar Council said.

“Clearly, the invitation did not say that it was a TWG Meeting. It also did not invite technical consultants. Even the government entity envisioned to buy the locally produced sugar was not invited. Moreover, the meeting was scheduled to start at 4PM. What significant results can one expect from a TWG Meeting scheduled to run for only one or two hours? With all these deficiencies in the invitation, there was nothing to clarify. There were intentions other than the TWG Meeting. Indeed, in that meeting, SRA floated a new plan, one that involved more trader participation and the chance of more importation” it said.

Some elements are of the opinion that the Sugar Council, by opposing the draft SO, is delaying the solution to the problem, it said.

“Who is the Sugar Council that it has the power to delay a Sugar Order? Whether or not the Sugar Council and the SRA agree on matters, while ideal, we cannot stop the SRA from implementing a solution that it feels is best for the industry,” it added.

If any delay is being caused, it is being caused by the SRA who already has P5 Billion to start the project. So, where is the P5 Billion, and where are the implementing guidelines? the Sugar Council asked.

It is regrettable when the leaders of the Sugar Council get labelled as students, or “pink-minded”, just because they hold opposing views to those who propose more trader intervention in exchange for more importation, its statement said.

“We have offered what we think will help solve the problem; we have expressed our misgivings about the so-called trader proposal, and we now leave the matter in SRA’s hands,” the Sugar Council said.

“What is important, at this point in time, is that we actually start solving the problem. The Sugar Council, in this regard, reiterates its offer to help where and when it is needed,” it said.*

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