Import lib viewed as threat to sugar farmers’ survival

SUGAR farmers said on Tuesday that the proposed liberalization of sugar imports poses a threat to thousands of marginal sugarcane farmers.

In a statement, Manuel R. Lamata, president of the United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines, said the industry is “totally against” the proposal put forward by Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno to liberalize sugar imports, which he said favors “a few industrial users.”

“He wants to further enrich these industrial users even knowing that this move will kill the (livelihood of) more than five million Filipinos who are dependent on the sugar industry,” he said.

Mr. Diokno said last week that he is studying allowing manufacturers of sweetened beverages to directly import their sugar as a “reasonable compromise” following plans to raise taxes on sugary drinks.

The Department of Finance said it hopes to impose a P12 excise tax on sweetened beverages under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law that does not recognize exceptions based on the type of sweetener used.

“Diokno should also think of the consumers or the general public who will also be affected as these industrial users will surely pass on the additional taxes to their consumers,” Mr. Lamata said.

He asked President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., who is also the Secretary of Agriculture, to reject the tax plan, which he said was prepared without benefit of consultation with the sugar industry.

“We are calling for his intervention on this matter,” Mr. Lamata said.

The Sugar Regulatory Administration controls sugar imports and determines the volume required based on its assessment of the supply and demand situation.

National Federation of Sugarcane Planters President Enrique D. Rojas said in a text message that liberalization will “wreak havoc on the long-established government regulations over the sugar industry.”

Mr. Rojas added that it will “destabilize” livelihoods.

“We strongly oppose direct sugar imports by manufacturers of sweetened beverages because it will destroy the livelihood of thousands of marginal sugarcane farmers, will not result in lower prices of sweetened beverages, and will simply further enrich these companies,” he said. — Sheldeen Joy Talavera