Rep. Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District) is filing an expanded bill that aims to raise the value of sugarcane through the creation of integrated agro industrial economic zones that will not only produce sugar, but fuel, power and other by-products, to enable the industry to survive trade liberalization beyond 2015.
It will now be known as the Sugarcane Act, instead of the Sugar Act, he said yesterday.
Benitez made the announcement with Sugar Regulatory Administrator Ma. Regina Bautista Martin at a press conference at Nature’s Village Resort in Talisay City after receiving the consolidated inputs from various sugar federations.
The solon had initially proposed a Sugar Act to cushion the impact of the reduction of tariff on imported sugar with trade liberalization, and had sought inputs from the sugar industry .
Under the ASEAN Free Trade Area agreement tariff on imported sugar entering the country dropped from 38 percent last year to 28 percent this year, Martin said. It will further drop to 18 percent in 2013, 10 percent in 2014 and 5 percent in 2015, she added.
Concern has been raised that the entry of cheaper highly-subsidized imported sugar into the country when tariffs drop will kill the domestic sugar industry, which produces sugar at higher costs.
Benitez said under the Sugarcane Act they aim to give sugarcane a higher value instead of just relying on sugar for the industry to survive.
Benitez said the sugar federations and the SRA have come up with inputs to the bill he is finetuning for filing when Congress resumes its sessions on May 7 and aims to have it passed into law next year.
There were prior discussions with stakeholders to prevent delays, he said.
“The Sugarcane Act is still very raw, but conceptually we have something to make us move forward , 70 to 80 percent of the draft focuses on efficiency and increasing productivity,” he said.
The sugar industry is not just about sugar farms it must include the sugar mills, he said.
Martin explained that the integrated agro industrial economic zones will assure the sustainability of the sugarcane industry with incentives for upgrading and modernization of mills and the agriculture sector.
Other countries and firms want to invest in agro-industrial ventures knowing the potential of sugarcane for the production of ethanol and energy, amid the current rising fuel and power costs, she also pointed out.
Sugarcane agro industrial economic zones can be harnessed for the production not only of bio fuels and energy but of bio water and bio plastics, she noted.
“All these have a high demand in the international market and are environmentally friendly,” and would cushion the industry from relying solely on the fluctuating prices of sugar, she said.
She said the measure will also aim to improve skills of labor to help them keep up with the needs of the industry and earn higher wages.
“Taking steps to earn more from ones sugarcane is founded on sound economic principles… and frees the industry from having to rely on the protective environment of high tariffs to protect it from outside forces,” Benitez said.
Meanwhile, Martin said the proposal for a single-buying single-selling scheme for sugar has been put to rest, amid fears of a repeat of the experience during the Marcos years.
“We all agreed not to go into single-buying, single-selling, which could be abused,” she said.
She said they are also very wary of amendments to Executive Order 80, the charter that created the SRA.
Amendments to the SRA charter could also make it subject to abuse in the hands of the wrong person, she said.
WORLD MARKET SUGAR
Martin also explained yesterday that the export of Philippine sugar to the world market has slowed a bit because domestic prices are currently higher, and Thailand exporting is at its peak.
She said 20 percent of the country’s sugar has been allocated for the world market, and only 70,000 MT remain to be exported for this crop year.
Raw sugar to the world market is selling at about P1,200 per Lkg, while in the domestic market it is at about 1,440, she said.
She noted that the country sent 57,000 MT to the world market in March and has a booking for 10,000 MT in April.*CPG