Sugar industry stakeholders expressed their support to the initiatives of Congressman Alfredo B. Benitez and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) on the proposed House Bill 6113 which aims to provide resources to the industry in order to meet the forthcoming entry of imported sugar under the AFTA (Asean Free Trade Area) that will lower the tariff on sugar from zero to 5 percent in 2015 from the present 28 percent.
This was the sentiment presented by Felixberto Monasterio, Executive Director of the Sugar Master Plan Foundation (SMPFI), during the hearing of the House ways and means committee last August 14.
Monasterio said that HB 6113 would be the much needed "shot in the arm" for an industry that has been resilient in its development efforts counting primarily on a strong SRA-private sector partnership or a "sariling sikap" mode as there has been no budgetary support for SRA from congressional appropriations for the past years.
On the other hand, imported sugar is mostly subsidized by the governments of exporting countries. Farm gate prices are fixed assuring their farmers of sufficient profits. Loans are granted to their local industries freely by government banks. Problem accounts are readily restructured or extended when they turn sour. None of these benefits are present in the Philippines. The playing field is not even, Monasterio pointed out.
The proposed HB is expected to strengthen the local sugar industry and improve the economic conditions of about 500,000 Filipinos in the countryside that are directly dependent on the industry for their livelihood and income.
The sugar industry is pressing government to raise support in infrastructure, equipment, and financing as full implementation by 2015 of free trade exposes small farmers to stiff competition mainly from well-aided Thailand farms.
In a statement, the Sugar Master Plan Foundation Inc. (SMPF) said the Asean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) is seen to impact adversely on the profitability of small sugar farmers.
Farmers tending 10 hectares each and below comprise 88 percent of the industry, while a sizable 79 percent is tilled by farmers with five hectares and below.
"Sugar industry stakeholders are hoping government will chip into the efforts in meeting the challenges come full implementation of AFMA. This call is being made by some 60,000 farmers planting sugarcane in about 420,000 hectares," said SMPF.
The industry particularly asks national government for support for farm to mill roads; technical assistance on the changing weather patterns; and for research and development on farm machineries such as cane harvesters and loaders would impact on the profitability of the farms.