The new SRA board is to work closely with stakeholders

A MAN wraps sugar in packets at a public market in Taguig City, August 27, 2008. – REUTERS/CHERYL RAVELO

Through Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, reporter

INDUSTRY STAKEHOLDERS expect the Sugar Regulatory Agency (SRA) to improve its coordination with stakeholders and ensure local producer protections after President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. appointed new officials.

“President Marcos’ recent appointments give us hope that we will have a better SRA that truly works and cares for industry stakeholders,” said Manuel R. Lamata, president of the United Sugar Producers Federation, in a Viber -News.

The appointments were recommended by Negros Oriental Lieutenant Governor JeonwardsRey Ferrer, Mr. Lamata said.

Negros Oriental is one of the largest sugar producers in the Philippines.

Mr Lamata said the SRA’s rules should be subject to thorough deliberation to find a “collective and coherent win-win solution that is fair to all parties involved and consumers in particular”.

He stressed that sugar imports should be a “last resort” to fill a supply shortage.

“SRA needs to strike a balancing act between the growers, the consumers, the millers and the industrial users to ensure no one sector takes advantage of the others,” said Mr. Lamata.

Mr. Marcos named three new o on SaturdayffiSugar Regulatory Board (SRB) representatives including David John Thaddeus P. Alba as Acting SRA Administrator.

Mr. Alba replaced Hermenegildo R. Serafica, who resigned along with other board members officials after the agency approved an order allowing the importation of 300,000 tonnes (MT) of sugar that Mr. Marcos’ office to be considered “illegal” or “unauthorized”.

Other appointments named by Mr. Marcos, the chairman of the Sugar Committee as head of agriculture, are Pablo Luis S. Azcona, representing the sugar planters, and Mitzi V. Mangwag, representing the sugar mills.

“We need to reconsider the SRA. It has not been very effective in its role in developing local industry,” said Jose Ma, Albay’s representative and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Clemente S. Salceda said in a Viber message.

“Low utilization rates of the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (SIDA) and the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion Acts (TRAIN) have haunted this agency,” he added, calling SRA a “failed agency.”

The TRAIN Act imposed excise duties on petroleum products and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB). According to the law, a significant part of SSB’s taxes should be allocated to the sugar industry.

Mr Salceda said there should be “a more technical body” led by the Department of Agriculture and made up of growers, millers, industrial users and consumer groups “to advise on whether we need to import sugar and how much”.

A representative of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas should also join the panel “for inbottleation targeting” and the National Economic and Development Agency (NEDA) to assess the “economic impact,” Mr Salceda said.

George T. Barcelon, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, hopes the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will play a more instrumental role in ensuring sugar supplies are adequate and prices stay low.

“The SRA should also work with the DTI. We hope for an active role of the DTI. It should come on top of sugar price hikes,” Barcelon said over the phone. “Companies need oneonwardsaffordable sugar.”

Meanwhile, Mr Salceda warned of plans to allow imports of sugar without government regulation, saying it would “defidoes not harm farms – especially at this time of high fertilizer, fuel and labor prices.”

“As I warned before, we have to be careful about liberalizing the sugar sector. The sugar production sector is among the most labor-intensive sectors in the agricultural sector, requiring an average of 1.4 workers per hectare, compared to 0.6 workers for rice and 0.7 for the entire sector,” he said, addingfits are not clear.

The government has intensifiedfied its crackdown on market participants allegedly hoarding sugar and has been conducting surprise inspections at some warehouses since last week.

On Saturday night, Mr. Marcos’ office announced the seizure of at least 60,000 cones of sugar in a series of stops in dionwardserent camp in Bulacan.

Customs officials used their visitor rights to inspect four warehouses in Guiguinto, Bulacan, late Saturday afternoon, spokeswoman Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a release.

She said authorities found imported sugar from Thailand weighing 50 kilograms per sack. Authorities also learned that the import license used for the Thai sugar “was the allocation for Sugar Regulation No. 3 issued by the SRB last February,” she added.

Before the inspection in Bulacan, Subic Port Customs officials also seized 140,000 bags of imported sugar from Thailand, equivalent to 7,000 tons.

“The huge amount of sugar discovered by the authorities in the various inspected warehouses in Luzon has led Malacañang to conclude that the sugar shortage is artificial caused by the hoarding of sugar merchants looking to rake in huge prosfits from the sudden spike in sugar prices.”

Mr. Marcos, Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri and sugar stakeholders recently agreed to import 150,000 tons of sugar.

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