TUGUEGARAO CITY, Cagayan: The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)-Region 2 over the weekend said the livelihood of some 10,000 sugar farmers and workers would be adversely affected by the reduction of the tariff on sugar in line with the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) in 2015.
Lawyer Sixto Rodriguez, DOLE-Region 2 director, pointed out that tariff on imported sugar would be further reduced to 5 percent from 10 percent in 2015.
“But this is expected to threaten the livelihood of around 10,000 sugar farmers and workers in Region 2 contrary to the tariff drop which makes imported sugar cheaper,” Rodriguez said.
The DOLE official explained that locally produced sugar will be hard put to compete with imported sugar in terms of price because of the high cost of sugar production in the country.
In 2015, the 10 countries that make up the Asean are set to establish the Asean Economic Community which envisions, among others, the setting up of “a highly competitive single market and production” through the integration of their economies.
The nations joining the AFTA are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Under the AFTA agreement, the countries obligated themselves to limit or remove tariffs and other trade barriers that are considered to interfere with trade among member-nations.
DOLE officials cited that similar agreements have been established in other regions of the world, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to promote trade between and among nations.
They noted that the said agreements improved the economies of member-nations and helped them establish a better footing in international trade.
However, the agriculture sector in Region 2, particularly small planters and mill workers, criticized the AFTA agreement, explaining that the pact tended to give certain member-nations unfair advantages.
To address the concerns of workers in the sugar industry, DOLE-Region 2 revealed that it has been conducting a series of consultations and activities with different stakeholders to protect the interests of the sugar industry in the region.
“We are doing this in compliance with the marching order of DOLE Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz to be united and work together in finding solutions that will mitigate the negative impact of AFTA next year,” Rodriguez said.
He said the agency has also scheduled focus group discussions with small planters and mill workers to gather inputs in a bid to formulate a sound action plan.
“Also important here is the [establishment of a]tripartite body to come up with solutions to cushion the blow of AFTA during the meeting of the District Tripartite Council (DTC) of the Sugar Industry last month,” Rodriguez mentioned.
The DOLE official also noted that the department has been preparing programs to help workers who might lose their jobs because of the effects of the establishment of the AFTA.
“We are ready to deliver programs and project affecting the sugar industry under the Sugar Amelioration Program and will provide alternative livelihood or financial assistance to sugar workers based on the Labor Code,” Rodriguez said.
In collaboration with the DTC, Rodriguez said the DOLE would focus on the human resource aspect of the preparations through education, training, and capacity-building activities in order to promote the competency of sugar industry workers.
“We will also assist child sugar workers in the sugar-producing Solana town in Cagayan in collaboration with other stakeholders and to provide all possible interventions from the government along with their parents,” Rodriguez said.
Meanwhile, officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) said they are ready to present to concerned government agencies a roadmap for the sugar industry, underlining sugar self-sufficiency and the use of sugarcane in ethanol production and power generation.
The SRA is intent on increasing sugar productivity and diversifying products derived from sugarcane.