Imports as last resort

In a recent forum in the sugar industry, the new Sugar Regulatory Administration chief Dave Alba vowed that local interests will prevail under the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who he referred to as being averse to importation.

The nation first was the vow of Alba, who took over from Hermenegildo Serafica, tagged among those behind the illegal Sugar Order 4 that would have opened the floodgates to cheap imports.

Be it cement, rice or onions, local industries have been stunted by the manipulation of the market with the collusion of government officials who have been given the responsibility of ensuring fair play.

Alba, who came from the industry and is one of the prime movers against unfair competition, said threats from big lobby groups to liberalize the industry continue.

The difference this time would be President BBM, who had made known his intention to take a hands-on approach on the farm sector by doubling as Department of Agriculture Secretary.

“We have been given a tall order, and that is to produce, produce and produce,” Alba said.

Lobby groups are active in Congress whose ultimate aim is to liberalize the industry, starting with separate sugar importation orders for big users, such as soft drinks makers.

“And while we do not want to take cognizance of the rumor mill, there have been whispers to resurrect the issue of liberalization, and that is something we have to prepare against,” he said.

Stakeholders in the industry said they are not against importation as they admit demand from the growing economy is outstripping supply, but they said that these should be calibrated to prevent hurting the local industry.

The proposal is for the bulk of sugar importation to enter the country during the off-season months from July to September, with smaller volumes during the lean production months of May, June or October.

The industry has objected to imported sugar being allowed into the market during the peak season months of January to April.

The importation schedule “could be predetermined and deliberated on in coordination with the industry’s major stakeholder groups and adjusted during the year based on real production and consumption indicators.”

Alba’s team has already crafted two SRA orders that would resolve the shortfall in supply and the measured importation.

The orders will go through deliberation before these are submitted to BBM. Industry leaders said the quick action of the new SRA leadership is crucial, particularly in reversing the price spike.

The shortage can be addressed through the conversion of 9,680 metric tons of sugar quota allocation under the US tariff rate quota scheme for domestic use.

Reclassification of the available supply is within the intent of the SRA orders being drafted to prioritize domestic demand over the quota allocations.

The new appointees of BBM have thus far received the nod of industry.

Imports should be last priority and should not be the product of manipulation by those in search of a fast buck.

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