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Sugar regulator says latest batch of imports open to all

THE Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) said all registered traders are eligible to apply for a portion of the latest batch of sugar imports, whose volume was set at 150,000 metric tons (MT), addressing concerns surrounding a previous import round that had been awarded privately.

“Based on our very fruitful meeting yesterday, everybody can rest assured that the coming import program… will be above board, open to all importers,” SRA Acting Administrator and Chief Executive Officer Pablo Luis S. Azcona said.

“All the registered international traders can join the program,” he added.

The industry and legislators had called into question the import arrangements made by Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban, who allocated import volumes to three traders after the issuance of Sugar Order 6 (SO 6), which authorized inbound shipments of 440,000 MT.

On Monday, the Palace announced that President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., who is also the Secretary of Agriculture, approved an SRA recommendation for further imports to stabilize prices.

The new sugar import program represents the third round ordered by Mr. Marcos. SO 4 called for shipments of 150,000 MT while SO 6 authorized volumes of 440,000 MT.

Mr. Azcona said that the proposed imports will bolster inventories and head off looming shortages.

“Last year, our buffer of (refined sugar) at the start of the milling season was only about 20,000 [MT], so it led to speculation (and) a spike in prices, which the President really wants to avoid,” he said.

He said that by the start of milling, usually in the second week of September, the buffer stock could build up to at least 240,000 MT, sufficient to account for demand while the refineries are gearing up.

Mr. Azcona estimated the supply of sugar at 3.102 million MT, with domestic production accounting for about 2.598 million MT, the SO 6 shipments 440,000 MT; and the minimum access volume 64,050 MT.

He said demand is projected at 3.151 million MT indicating a market shortfall.

Mr. Azcona also expects domestic sugar production to decline with farmers driven to start milling in early August last year due to increased prices.

“When we force milling earlier, nawawala ang sweetness ng asukal kasi immature pa ang sugarcane (the sugar is not as sweet because the cane is underdeveloped). The effect is what is happening now… we may not reach our projection,” he said.

He also said that at the start of milling, the sugar held in inventory will be about 240,000 MT.

“If we do the additional 150,000 MT — it might be less — it should be in the Philippines before the start of next milling which is maybe around Aug. 30,” he said.

Manuel R. Lamata, president of the United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines, said in a Viber message that he supports imports because retail prices remain high.

“Imports must be increased to lower the price. Besides, harvesting is already over so (there will be) no harm to the farmers,” he said.

John Milton Lozande, secretary general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, told reporters that his organization opposes the latest imports because the volumes ordered under SO 6 are still arriving.

He added that the Department of Trade and Industry and the SRA and the Department of Agriculture (DA) “should price caps on sugar.”

At least 238,000 MT of sugar authorized under SO 6 has been landed, of which about 140,000 MT has been reclassified and released to the domestic market, according to Mr. Azcona.

As of Tuesday, the prevailing price of refined sugar ranged between P86-P110, washed sugar P80-P90, and brown sugar P78-P95, according to DA price monitors. — Sheldeen Joy Talavera

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