Gov’t under fire for another importation: 200,000 MT of refined sugar

By Jeanne Michael Penaranda
QUEZON CITY – After rice, meat and fish, the government, through the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) of the Department of Agriculture led by Secretary William Dar,  approved on February 3 the importation of 200,000 metric tons of refined sugar due to reported shortfall in supply which some groups criticized.
“We have become a nation of importation of agriculture and fisheries products,” the groups said, adding the country has been importing rice, fish, milk, beef, chicken, pork and even vegetables, instead of helping local farmers and fisherfolk.
The decision was defended by officials who said the importation will stabilize the domestic price of the sweetener.
But due to an impending Congressional investigation and protests, it was reported later that the SRA issued its latest Memorandum Circular No. 5 dated Feb. 16 indicating the Philippines would be temporarily halting the previously-announced implementation of the import program for 200,000 mt of refined sugar until further notice.
The new SRA action came since it issued Sugar Order No. 3 on February 4  allowing the importation reportedly to address the concerns of lower crop production and rising fertilizer prices, prices of local sugar prices dropped drastically, prompting farmers and local officials to appeal to the Department of Agriculture and SRA to stop the importation during the harvest season.
Meanwhile, a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was issued by the Regional Trial Court of Negros Occidental stopping the importation upon the petition of Enrique Tayo, president of the Negros Occidental Federation of Farmers Associations with the support of the Asosacion de Agricultores de La Carlota y Pontevedra Inc. and the La Carlota Mill District Multi-Purpose Cooperative.

The petitioner in another case was the Rural Sugar Planters Association Inc., represented by its president Joseph Edgar Sarrosa, director of the United Sugar Producers Federation (Unifed),

A second Regional Trial Court in Himamaylan City in Negros Occidental later issued a TRO on the Duterte administration’s move to allow the importation of 200,000 metric tons of sugar.

Executive Judge Walter Zorilla of RTC Branch 55 also extended on Feb. 17 his earlier 72-hour TRO to 20 days to prevent irreparable damage to sugar farmers who asked the court for a more permanent injunction.

Executive Judge Reginald Fuentebella of RTC Branch 73 in Sagay City  issued a 20-day restraining order on Feb. 14.

Of the planned import volume, 100,000 metric tons (MT) will be standard grade refined sugar and the other 100,000 MT will be bottlers’ grade refined sugar.

The importation is open and voluntary to industrial users of refined sugar that are duly registered with the SRA headed by SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica as an international sugar trader in good standing.

In a statement, the SRA said Sugar Order No. 3 for Crop Year 2021-2022 allowing the importation of 200,000 metric tons of standard and bottler’s grade refined sugar was issued by the Sugar Board after considering the shortfall on the ending balance of refined sugar.

The decision is pursuant to its mandate to establish and maintain such balanced relation between production and requirement of sugar and such marketing conditions as will ensure stabilized prices, it said.

After assessing the damage caused by typhoon “Odette” to sugarcane crops, sugar stocks at warehouses, as well as facilities and equipment of sugar mills and refineries in key sugar milling districts, the SRA recalibrated its pre-final crop estimate of raw sugar production to 2.072 MT down from the 2.099 MT pre-final crop estimate prior to Odette.

In addition, the Philippine Association of Sugar Refineries also revised its refined sugar production forecast for Crop Year 2021-2022 to 16.748 million LKg, down from the initial production estimate of 17.572 million LKg before Typhoon “Odette.”

According to SRA’s projections on sugar supply and demand, this will give the country a very tight sugar stock balance at the end of milling which will not be enough to cover the two to three months demand for refined sugar in between the milling seasons.

Recently, SRA monitoring of sugar prices also recorded wholesale prices for both raw and refined sugar have increased to record highs. Likewise, retail sugar prices were also up.

As the economy is once again starting to open up, the demand for raw sugar and refined sugar for January this year have also increased when compared to the same month in the three previous years.

Hence the need to augment sugar stocks to ensure food security and availability of sugar to cover sugar demand until the next crop year or milling season begins again.

A crop year starts September 1 and ends August 31 of the following year, however the sugar mills and refineries generally stop operations around May to June and the mills start operations for the next season around September to October while the refineries start around two weeks after the mills.

200,00 MT of refined sugar will cover the shortfall on the supply and will leave the country with enough buffer stock to tide over until the start of the next milling season.

During a stakeholder’s consultation conducted by SRA, stakeholders posed no objection to an importation program, while they recommended its mechanics, type of sugar to be imported, and arrival dates of shipments, among others.

Eligible participants to this open and voluntary importation program are industrial users of refined sugar in good standing that are duly registered international traders.

An industrial user that is not registered with SRA as an international trader, may appoint an international sugar trader in good standing to import for its account.

Complete applications may be filed with the SRA Regulation Department either in Quezon City or in Bacolod City not later than 5 pm on February 14, 2022.