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Sugar farmers say imports not the way to address low prices at millgate

SUGAR planters said the plan to import more sugar is not an appropriate reaction to falling millgate prices.

“Even as we all agree on the need for timely and appropriate intervention at this time, we feel that your proposed trader program is inopportune,” the Sugar Council said in a statement, addressing the industry regulator.

The council was responding to a proposal by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to allow traders to import more sugar.

“We expressed clear, unequivocal objection to more sugar imports. It’s not as if there are no better alternatives, because there are, and have been on the table since early this year,” Aurelio Gerardo J. Valderrama, Jr., president of the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations, Inc. (CONFED).

Farmers have said that millgate prices have dropped because of excessive imports and predatory pricing by traders.

“(This) puts in serious question any program that suggests even more trader intervention and import activity,” it added.

The council is seeking updates on the government’s intervention plan to address low millgate prices.

“Over-importation got us in the mess, so agreeing to more imports is suicidal… On the other hand, government intervention is designed to fix low millgate prices without trader participation or sugar imports,” Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers, Inc. (PANAYFED) President Danilo A. Abelita said.

Enrique D. Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, Inc. (NFSP), said that the sugar harvest for the season is almost complete in many areas.

He had also asked why the SRA has appeared to set aside plans for government intervention.

“Why did the SRA suddenly turn around and propose a new plan, one that is highly contested because it calls for even more sugar imports? It is just delaying the delivery of government help,” Mr. Rojas said.

The government had allocated P5 billion to purchase sugar in order to support producers after millgate prices fell to between P2,300-P2,500 per 50-kilogram bag.

SRA Administrator Pablo Luis S. Azcona said that the P5 billion is equivalent to 1.75–1.8 million 50-kilogram bags of sugar, or 10%–15% of the current harvest.

The council, composed of CONFED, PANAYFED, and the NFSP, accounts for about 66% of the sugar produced in the Philippines. — Adrian H. Halili