Sugar imports hurt agri most

Economist-lawmaker Joey Salceda said Thursday that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s decision to put his foot down on importing 300,000 metric tons of sugar showed “just how sensitive the issue is.”

“The sugar sector needs 1.3 workers per hectare cultivated, versus just 0.7 workers for the agriculture sector in general, and 0.6 workers for rice,” Salceda pointed out.

He averred that being the most labor-intensive sectors in agriculture, losses for sugarcane farmers due to importation will be “more displacing” than “rice tariffication was for rice farmers.”

Salceda underscored that 150,000 metric tons (MT) of the proposed 300,000 MT was supposed to be for bottler-grade sugar or sugar that sweetened beverage makers use.

“Of course, absent such imports, the beverage makers will likely resort to other sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS-sweetened beverages are taxed at higher excise tax rates (P12/liter) than sugar-sweetened beverages (P6/liter) and these taxes can benefit the domestic sugar sector, if we can collect and use them,” he said.

The lawmaker said he would form a working group to track HFCS imports from beverage manufacturers and ensure that the import volumes match their tax payments on sweetened beverages.

He said the agencies he will be teaming up with are the Department of Finance, Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Food and Drug Administration.

“I expect higher revenues from sweetened beverages as a result of this temporary shift, and those revenues can be used to enhance the domestic sugar industry,” he stressed.

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