Sugar regulator still gauging mill output before determining volume of next import shipment

THE Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) said on Tuesday that the volume of sugar to be imported will be determined later in the month following a survey of domestic mill output.

“We would like to assure our sugar stakeholders that we will carefully study supply conditions before we peg the final figure,” said SRA Acting Administrator and Chief Executive Officer Pablo Luis S. Azcona in a statement.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., who concurrently serves as Agriculture Secretary, has approved additional sugar imports of a maximum of 150,000 metric tons (MT), following an SRA recommendation. 

Mr. Azcona said about 100,000 MT of this will serve as additional buffer stock to compensate for the gap in production created by the one-month delay in the milling season to September.

The delay had been implemented to allow the sugar crop more time to mature, potentially increasing yields.

Mr. Azcona has said a new sugar order will be released on or before the end of May.

Meanwhile, Mr. Azcona said refined sugar output fell because mills suffered a shortage of bagasse — a byproduct of the cane crushing process that is used as fuel for the mills. The bagasse shortage was in turn “caused by massive rains, particularly in Negros Island, which provides more than half of our country’s sugar.”

He added that the closure of Central Azucarera de Don Pedro in Batangas earlier this year also affected supply.

He said only 11 out of 24 sugar mills in the country are still milling, with many of them to close out their season by the end of May.

He said production to date of 1,760,840 MT and another 20,000 MT expected from the mills still operating will not be able to cover demand of 2.2 million MT.

“We will soon be conducting consultations on what we can do in preparation for the next milling season to improve productivity towards self-sufficiency, and again we may strongly consider delaying the opening of the milling season as part of the solution,” he said.

National Federation of Sugarcane Planters President Enrique D. Rojas, who has called for more transparency in sugar data, had asked the SRA to consult more widely before arriving at an import decision.

“We are happy that SRA is apparently seriously studying the sugar supply and demand figures before coming up with the final volume for import,” he said.

“Sugar producers will appreciate very much if SRA can be more consultative and transparent in the decision-making process (before) additional imports,” he added. — Sheldeen Joy Talavera