Bacolod: Inquiry into direct sugar importation eyed

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An inquiry on the proposed direct importation of sugar by industrial users is up for inclusion in the hearing to amendments of the Sugarcane Industry Development Act of 2015, disclosed Third District Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez, amid strong opposition by the sugar industry leaders to the call of Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno for such importation.

Benitez said the push for sugar liberalization is based on a proposal to increase taxes on sweetened beverages, which will hit industrial users the most.

To offset losses from the increase in taxes, they are given the opportunity to import, he added.

Benitez said industrial users are proposing that for every ton of locally produced sugar they will procure, they will also be allowed to import one ton of sugar, to balance it out.

“The problem is that the local sugar industry lacks production of industrial bottled grade sugar as only a few sugar mills are capable of producing it,” Benitez pointed out, admitting that Philippines is importing bottled grade sugar, which is different from consumer market sugar.

Legislators are now looking into which “policy direction would be appropriate” to address the concerns of industrial users, the solon said.

Benitez said there is a pending request for the House Committee on Agriculture to hold the SIDA hearing, which had been postponed twice already due to rising prices and scarcity of onion supplies, slated after the State Of the Nation Address of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in Bacolod City.

The Negros Occidental 3rd district solon said he is consistent with his stand against the liberalization of sugar industry.

Rep. Emilio “Dino” Yulo III (5th district, Negros Occidental), said allowing industrial users to directly import sugar would kill the sugar industry.

Sugar planters’ federations in the country are opposing sugar liberalization, which according to Diokno is a “reasonable compromise,” following proposals to raise taxes on sugary drinks.

Senator JV Ejercito, United Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED), and the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP), have all aired opposition to Diokno’s plan.

Under the present system, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) regulates the importation of sugar and determines the volume to be imported, after assessing the local industry’s capability to satisfy the country’s consumption demands.

(Gilbert Bayoran via The Visayan Daily Star (TVDS), photo courtesy of TVDS)

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