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Bukidnon wants sugar import liberalization junked

THE Provincial Board of Bukidnon has appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to disallow and intervene in the proposed import liberalization in the sugar industry.

In a resolution, principal author and Board Member Nemesio Beltran said “the unregulated entry of imported sugar will lead to a drop in purchases of sugar produced by farms and mills in the Bukidnon sugar milling district.”

The Bukidnon sugar milling district covers the towns of Damulog, Cabanglasan, Dangcagan, Don Carlos, Malaybalay, Quezon, Kibawe, Impasug-ong, Kadingilan, Maramag, Kitaotao, Lantapan and Pangantucan, with a total of 11,395 sugarcane farmers, or about 72.4 percent of whom are farming less than five hectares.

It has two sugar mills — Busco Sugar Milling Co. and Crystal Sugar Milling Co.

“Any disruption in sugar farming or cessation in mill operations will severely and negatively affect the livelihood of farmers and workers, allied businesses of sugar production,” Beltran said.

Bukidnon accounts for 72 percent of the sugarcane area and 75 percent of sugar production of Mindanao.

Beltran noted that allowing the entry of cheaper refined sugar will dismantle the local sugar farming and mill operations, which generate P90 billion annually from the sale of raw sugar, refined sugar, molasses and ethanol.

The sugar industry, he added, provides employment to 700,000 sugar workers across the 20 sugar-producing provinces of the country.

In Bukidnon alone, Beltran said about 140,000 people directly and indirectly dependent on sugar farming are expected to be affected if the government allows more liberal sugar imports on the model of rice tariffication.

The Department of Finance issued an Economic Bulletin on Sept. 27, 2019 calling for the removal of quantitave restrictions on sugar imports, citing domestic sugar prices are higher than those in the world market, affecting the competitiveness of the food processing industry.

“Reforms are needed to introduce competition in the sugar industry. Quantitative restrictions need to be replaced by tariffs and safeguard measures [for subsidized products] to allow for more transparent, competitive pricing and allow downstream industries to become more viable and grow as fast as their Asean counterparts,” said Finance Undersecretary and chief economist Gil Beltran.

About 50 percent of the locally-produced sugar go to industrial users, while the remaining 32 percent and 18 percent are consumed by households and institutions, respectively.

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