Politics

No more sugar imports this year — SRA

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A stall vendor arranges products at a market stall in central Manila. — BW FILE PHOTO

By Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson, Reporter

THE GOVERNMENT does not plan to import more sugar for the remainder of this crop year as output is expected to begin picking up, Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) chief David John Thaddeus P. Alba said on Tuesday.

“By November, all the mills and refineries will be producing. There will be no importation until we finish stock,” Mr. Alba said at a briefing.

“We don’t want to import when our mills and planters are in full (operation). While they are operating, we will never import,” he added.

The current sugar crop year began on Sept. 1 and will end on Aug. 31, 2023.

Earlier this month, the SRA issued Sugar Order (SO) No. 2, which authorized the importation of 150,000 metric tons (MT) of refined sugar to augment local supply and bring down prices.

Under the order, the total volume of imports will be equally divided between industrial users and consumers. The imports are expected to arrive not later than Nov. 15.

Mr. Alba said the import volume under SO No. 2 was decided as a “stopgap measure” as it would cover the demand needed for two months.

Latest SRA data showed the country’s current stock of physical raw sugar is at 134,526.72 MT, while its total stock of refined sugar is at 143,665.05 MT.

The official said sugar prices will likely go down by November as imports arrive and with milling already in full swing, adding that the SRA is targeting to lower the average retail price of refined sugar to P70-P80.

As of Sept. 9, the average price of refined sugar in wet markets almost doubled to P97.36 from P52.64 in the same period last year. The price of raw sugar likewise rose to P72.64 from P43.36 in 2021.

“Right now, most of the big mills in Negros are in full operation and are milling. Refineries will be in full operation by November. We’re hoping that by November, prices will stabilize,” he said. “By the time we start refining, we would like everybody to buy locally produced refined sugar from the refineries.”

“Barring another typhoon like Odette, the canes are looking good. Hopefully, if the trend continues, we’ll have more sugar than we have estimated,” Mr. Alba added.

Pablo Luis S. Azcona, who represents the sugar planters’ bloc in the SRA board, said prices are normally higher before the start of milling due to low supply.

“Once everybody mills in Negros, because 60% of production comes from there, the prices will surely stabilize,” Mr. Azcona added.

SRA board sugar millers’ representative Mitzi V. Mangwag likewise said prices may begin declining once refineries commence operations in November.

“By November, all refineries will be operating at full speed. So, we can really have enough refined sugar for the needs of the industrial and direct consumers. Hopefully by that time, input costs will be a little bit lower…to sell [sugar] at a reasonable cost in the market. We are really looking forward to operating these refineries soon to be able to bridge the gap,” Ms. Mangwag said.

BUSINESS SECTORMeanwhile, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) in a statement on Tuesday urged the SRA to appoint a business sector representative for local food manufacturers and exporters.

“We believe that all sectors must be heard. Our local food processors and manufacturers, which are mostly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have long been burdened with the high cost of refined sugar and sadly, they are not able to compete with our counterparts in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), whose sugary-made products are sold way cheaper than ours,” PCCI Agriculture Committee Chairman Paul Cuyegkeng said.

The chamber said the SRA should give a board seat to the private sector so they can better determine the sugar requirements of companies and MSMEs and consider them in import requests.

It also recommended modernizing the milling industry to increase production and provide incentives to attract investments in the agriculture-related manufacturing sector.