Food processing companies are starting to feel the impact of declining sugar prices, which they say will make their products more competitive.
Over the weekend, mango exporter Hi-Las Marketing Corp. thanked President Marcos for moving to put a stop to the hoarding of sugar by a cartel of millers, traders, and retailers.
At the same time, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said he suspects collusion among traders to make it appear there is a supply shortage to drive up the price of sugar, as evidenced by a series of raids on warehouses where thousands of metric tons of the commodity were found.
As an active member of the Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization, Inc. (Philfoodex), Hi-Las said sugar is an important input in food manufacturing.
“So prices for the commodity should be at a level where we can remain competitive in the global market, most especially with our neighbors in the ASEAN, whose prices often undercut ours due to their lower costs of production,” said Hi-Las president Ram Amores II.
Continuing profitability of manufacturing industries would help local agriculture, Amores said, adding that they see farmers as “valuable stakeholders” in their operations.
Meanwhile, the beverage giant Coca-Cola Beverages of the Philippines, Inc. (CCBPI), over the weekend confirmed that the supply shortage of bottler’s grade sugar has affected the capability of some of its bottling plants to continue production.
“We are doing everything we can to minimize supply disruption and the impact of supply shortage to our bottling operations,” the company said.
CCBPI is closely working with the government and the broader sugar industry sector to arrive at a sustainable solution for the benefit of the small retailers who also rely on product’s availability for their livelihoods, the company said.
On Sunday, Gatchalian said the Senate would investigate corruption issues in the sugar industry, especially in the unusual quick release of import permits.
The Bureau of Customs is leading surprise inspections nationwide, resulting in the discovery of stockpiles of sugar, which may or may not have been imported legally.
Gatchalian did not see the involvement Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez in the controversial sugar importation scandal, nor does he agree with the calls to abolish the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).
Instead, he said the focus should be on solving the sugar industry’s problems and making sure it won’t collapse as thousands of workers would be affected.
In a radio interview on Sunday, Gatchalian said that based on information and Senate hearing last week, Rodriguez had no role on the unauthorized Sugar Order (SO) No. 4 which sought to approve the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.
The senator also said there was a “misunderstanding” in the signing, which led to the resignation of SRA officials.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri also attested to Rodriguez’s efforts to bring down the price of sugar in markets.
Last week, the leader of a sugar producers’ group has declared there is a “conspiracy between millers, traders, and retailers” to induce a shortage and drive up prices of the commodity in the country, Manuel Lamata, United Sugar Producers Federation (Unifed) president, and Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization, Inc. (Philfoodex) chief Ruben See also said in a television interview that there was no shortage of sugar from local suppliers or in local markets – but it was just too pricey.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Lamata and See also blamed the former leaders of the Sugar Regulatory Administration, particularly ex-Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, for the mess the industry is in.
Saying the conspirators created the crisis by controlling the timing of the release of stocks and importation of the sweetener, Lamata said: “It’s all about money. The more they hoard, constrict, the more money they make.”
“We don’t have any lack of sugar. There is none. Because you go out anywhere, you can buy, but it’s very, very high. So, there’s no shortage,” the Unifed chief said, echoing See’s earlier statement on the TV program.
He said his peers are very happy with the changes President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., as concurrent Agriculture Secretary and SRA board chairman, made in the agency.
Lamata added that the local sugar industry “was never against importation, it’s just the timing. Never, never import when it’s harvest season.”
That’s why he and See found it curious when Serafica signed Sugar Order No. 3 last February, which authorized the importation of 200,000 metric tons of sugar during the Philippines’ peak sugar milling season– thus depressing the prices that sugar planters could fetch for their crops.