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Sugar industry sets conditions for liberalization

THE local sugar industry may only allow the implementation of the proposed liberalization scheme, if the country’s sugar farmers will be given government support at the same level its major competitor Thailand provide for its farmers, particularly in terms of mechanization and research to improve productivity, a top official said.

Farmer Salustiano Mariano uses a knife to harvest sugar cane in Bacsil north, Ilocos Norte. File Photo

In a press briefing on Monday, Sugar Regulatory Administration Board Member Planters Representative Dino Yulo said the Philippine sugar industry has always been benchmarked with Thailand, which can produce the sweetener more efficiently as Thai sugar farmers and workers are highly subsidized by their government.

“Let’s say assuming we put in all the groundworks for liberalization. We will be most happy if our sugar farmers are in parity and they compete with Thailand. If we improve productivity because we have as much support from government as they have in Thailand, we will be happy,” Yulo said.

He noted the “willingness” to increase productivity is there, however, the intensified government support has been lacking since the past decades. This support, he said, would entail major investments in the areas of mechanization and research, among others.


“In Thailand, they can recover from raw to refined at 94-95 percent. In the Philippines, we can only recover 92 percent. In Thailand, they roll out new varieties in five years. In the Philippines, we roll out varieties every one decade,” he explained.

Yulo pointed out that countries like Thailand and Cambodia have tremendously improved their respective sugar industries in the past decades, in fact, with so much help from the Philippines, referring to the research and level of knowledge of Filipino industry workers.

“The Pinoy has the knowledge [and] raw talent. What is the difference? Maybe the difference is the government support,” he said.

Yulo also cited Thailand’s “cane purchase system” that ensures profitability among its sugar farmers.

“They buy per ton. In Thailand, the prices are pegged by the government. In other words, in Thailand, [unlike in the Philippines], a farmer is assured that if he plant sugarcane right now, down the line, he will make profit,” he said.

Resolution

These realities even more made the local sugar producers to remain defiant of import liberalization, which was recently proposed by the Department of Finance (DoF), citing that domestic sugar prices are double the world market price, affecting the competitiveness of the food processing industry.

“I will move to pass a resolution [in a board meeting with the Department of Agriculture] since we are the agency tasked to protect the stakeholders as well as create a balance of the consumers. We will formally oppose the move to liberalize the industry,” Yulo said.

Yulo also urged the DoF to re-study their figures and remarks toward liberalizing the local sugar industry.

“What is more important than figures probably is food security. I think we need to hammer this to ordinary Filipinos. We might get lesser prices for a small period of time but the threat of looming food crisis is just around the corner,” he said.

With the recent passage of House Resolution 412, where at least 24 lawmakers expressed strong opposition to the proposed import liberalization for the sugar industry, Yulo was hopeful this will continue and result to total junking the economic managers’ proposal.

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Today’s Front Page November 13, 2019

Today’s Front Page November 13, 2019