The Philippine sugar industry will thrive amid the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 2015 on account of continuing financial and technical investments from the private sector, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) said.
In a speech during the inauguration of the Universal Robina Corp. (URC) Fuel Ethanol Plant in Negros Oriental, SRA Administrator Ma. Regina Bautista-Martin assured stakeholders that the sugar industry would survive beyond 2015.
“Everybody is concerned about 2015 which is at hand. We are surviving. We are doing something right and good. We are blessed,” Martin said.
She asked, “Why will investors like Lance Gokongwei, Manny Pangilinan, and Lucio Tan, and many others invest if they don’t see a bright future in the industry?”
For his part, URC President Lance Gokongwei said their investment in the ethanol plant is a manifestation of their belief that the Philippine sugar industry can compete globally and continue to survive and grow way past 2015.
He added that the ethanol plant is part of their contributions to the country’s renewable energy agenda and revealed that the company is set to open a biomass plant next year.
Located in Barangay Tamisu, Bais City in Negros Oriental, the fuel ethanol plant has a rated capacity of 100,000 liters per day of fuel grade ethanol culled from sugarcane molasses. It is the first in Southeast Asia to use a spent wash incineration boiler.
Meanwhile, Martin called on concerned government authorities to provide an enabling environment for sugar and sugarcane production as the reduction of the tariff on sugar to 5 percent is set to take effect in less than a year as stated in the agreement establishing the AFTA.
Under the AFTA agreement, the country is obligated to reduce the tariff on imported sugar from 18 percent in January 2013 to 10 percent in January 2014 and further down to 5 percent in January 2015.
Martin also urged the Senate to expedite the passage of the proposed Sugarcane Act to provide an enabling environment for diversified sugar production and make the local sugar industry more competitive.
“The bill is aimed to provide the enabling environment to make sugarcane and sugar production viable, competitive and, as much as possible, diversified despite the reduction of its Asean tariff to 5 percent in less than a year,” Martin said.
She also noted that without any financial assistance from government, the industry and the whole sugarcane value chain would shrink, leading to the displacement of workers and a decline in the growth of major sugarcane-producing provinces.
The SRA cited that the sugar industry contributes P70 billion to the Philippine economy annually. Out of the total land area of about 30 million hectares, sugarcane is planted in around 422,500 hectares of land in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the industry employs around 62,000 farmers.