Workers and business groups in Negros Occidental yesterday expressed fear of a sugar industry collapse with the proposed sugar import liberalization of the national government, which they are opposing.
The Bacolod Sangguniang Panlungsod also passed a resolution opposing the move.
However, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry in a statement issued yesterday, said it is backing the move of government to deregulate sugar importation in a bid to moderate prices of the essential commodity.
In the statement, PCCI president Alegria Limjoco, said opening up sugar importation is a welcome development to enterprises in the food processing and manufacturing sector where sugar is a vital ingredient.
“Our domestic food processors, which are mostly small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are taking the brunt of the high cost of domestic sugar, which actually makes them uncompetitive. That’s why we laud the government for taking this initiative to liberalize sugar imports,” Limjoco said.
Last week, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said sugar is next on the government’s list of agricultural products where importation rules will be relaxed.
The General Alliance of Workers Association, in its workers’ manifesto yesterday, said that they are opposing the deregulation of imported sugar as it could bring irreparable damage to the local economy, and affect thousands of Negrenses.
The Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry is also urging all the district representatives in Negros and Panay to oppose the approval of sugar liberalization as the province, which is dependent on this monocrop industry, is not ready for it yet.
GAWA said that about 300,000 sugar and mill workers would be out of jobs, even small and medium sugar growers who are dependent on sugar alone would be forced to sell or abandon their lands.
Sugar Regulatory Administration Board Member Emilio “Dino” Yulo III said earlier that there are about five million stakeholders in the sugar industry nationwide.
“The irreparable damage that could be brought by this sugar import liberalization, if not averted, will be an economic catastrophe and disaster to our province,” GAWA said.
This sugar collapse, GAWA said, will create a domino effect on economic activities in the big areas of the province like Bacolod City.
The manifesto also said that Negros had been in the limelight of social criticism as hungry farm workers and malnourished children dubbed as “batang Negros” were in the front pages of the newspapers due to the sugar decline decades ago.
“We do not want that poverty in Negros. Dreadful as it is, it will be repeated,” it said.
When crisis happens, GAWA projected that uncertain return of business operations will be followed by unexpected closures of business establishments due to the negative business environment, and will lead to a rise in unemployment.
Collapse due to massive and unrestricted sugar importation will happen if the government will push through with the import liberalization of sugar, the statement also said.
MBCCI Chief Executive Officer Frank Carbon also said yesterday that the business group in the province is opposing the import liberalization of sugar as Negros Occidental is not yet ready as it is still struggling in the shift to farm mechanization.
In December last year, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce had expressed its desire for open importation of sugar as without it, prices of foods and beverages that use sugar as ingredient, will go up, it said.
MBCCI and the Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry are members of PCCI, but they do not support its position, Carbon said.
The production cost is still not competitive, as sugar producers are still shifting from manual labor to farm mechanization and the government should consider this before imposing any policies like import deregulation, he said.
MBCCI is urging congressmen from Negros Island and Panay, that are big producers of sugar, to oppose this proposal of the government, together with the other legislators from the Visayas in the House of the Representatives.
Carbon added the whole industry should also stand against this and come together to boost farm mechanization in the province to increase competitiveness of locally produced sugar.
Millgate prices for B or domestic sugar were from P 1,480 to as high as P1,560 per 50 Lkg bag this week, that is the same, or slightly higher than last week’s, Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica of the Sugar Regulatory Administration said yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Bacolod SP approved a resolution objecting to the proposed liberalization of the sugar industry and appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte, the Department of Budget and Management, the National Economic Development Authority, the Department of Finance, the SRA and the Department of Agriculture, not to push through with it.
The resolution authored by Councilor Caesar Distrito said that according to the DBM, the rationale for the liberalization is that the importation of sugar will push down the price of the commodity and improve the competitiveness of the food export industry of the country
To pursue such plans will also result to the collapse, not just of the sugar industry, but also of local economies dependent on sugar such as Negros Occidental and Oriental, and will further pull down their people to much deeper poverty, it said.
Instead of looking only at free importation of sugar, the government should make a concrete plan on going after the greedy traders and retailers who are abusive of the situation since it is not the farmgate price of sugar that has remained high but its retail price, the resolution added.*MLG/PNA
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