As the country braces for a long dry spell with the onset of El Niño, the government is considering the possibility of allowing industrial users to import sugar directly for their needs and to address potential shortages in the sugar supply chain.
This is in response to concerns over the impact of El Niño on the country’s agriculture sector, particularly on the sugar industry.
The proposal also seeks an expansion of the list of sugar importers beyond the three “preferred” traders at present.
Manila 6th District Representative Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr. recently voiced his support for this measure, citing the urgent need to prevent job losses and stop the expected hikes in sugar prices that could burden consumers.
The recent news the retail price of sugar in supermarkets has hit a high of P136 per kilo is already a cause for alarm for many Filipinos.
Many are now calling on the government for an immediate resolution.
However, there are concerns the current policy on sugar importation, known as the Minimum Access Volume mechanism, is slow and bureaucratic.
While it has been in place for several years as a measure to protect the local sugar industry, the threat of El Niño on top of the now skyrocketing price of sugar demands the government must adopt a faster, more flexible, if not more radical, approach.
This burgeoning sugar supply crisis also follows allegations by Senator Risa Hontiveros the government is playing favorites by allowing only three private traders to import sugar under the current system.
She said this apparent “cartel” rakes in billions of pesos in “super profits” by selling the commodity at an “outrageous” price – none of which will go to the National Treasury.
Furthermore, related allegations of sugar smuggling have underscored the need for greater accountability and oversight in sugar importation.
Senator Hontiveros stressed selling seized smuggled sugar to the public through the government’s Kadiwa stores only empowers the smugglers.
Instead, Hontiveros suggested the smuggled commodity be given for free to poor communities.
Clearly, the potential disaster we are facing is both man-made and natural.
As we prepare for the potential impact of El Niño on our agriculture sector, it is crucial we prioritize the needs of the people.
Liberalizing sugar importation and allowing industrial users like manufacturers of food and beverage products to import directly can help achieve these goals.
By liberalizing sugar importation, the government will not only prevent a possible shortage of the sweet commodity but will also promote competition in the sugar industry.
This can lead to better sugar prices for both producers and consumers, as Filipino consumers will not have to compete with industrial users for supply.
Furthermore, this move will also help stabilize the food and beverage industry at this difficult time, preventing production stoppage and job loss.
Liberalizing sugar importation can possibly even open an opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses to enter the market and participate in the supply chain, thus creating more jobs and driving economic growth.
However, it is important to note liberalizing sugar importation should not be done at the expense of the local sugar industry.
The government must strike a careful balance between protecting local sugar producers and ensuring the country’s sugar supply is kept stable.
Proper regulation and monitoring of imported sugar must also be done to prevent the entry of substandard products.
Simply put, we cannot allow a select few to profit at the expense of the many.
The government must now act swiftly and decisively to avert a preventable disaster that can potentially wreak havoc on the country’s economy.
(The author is a retired executive who worked for three decades in the telecommunications industry.)