The sugar industry is pressing for a final declaration of 55,000 bags of sugar (P150 million worth) from Thailand as “smuggled” amid sinister attempts to release this to the market which will depress prices to farmers’ detriment.

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) already decided last October 8 that the sugar volume is “clearly” illegally shipped.

Yet, a vested interest group is tried to withdraw last Tuesday (November 27) the volume from a warehouse in Bulacan, apparently with the intention to sell it to the market.

The Sugar Master Plan Foundation (SMPF) is seeking assistance from the BOC and Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) on the final declaration of the sugar as illegal, according to SMPF Executive Director Felixberto T. Monasterio.

“Bureau of Customs already determined that it’s clearly beyond the volume legally imported by the National Food Authority. But some people tried last Tuesday to get the stocks from the warehouse. When released to the market, that will adversely affect our farmers as they’re just about to harvest,” said Monasterio.

NFA was allowed by the national government to import in the first half of 2010 a total of 150,000 metric tons of sugar in order to beef up local supply.

But amid this importation process, BOC seized a shipment from Thailand under the name of importer Unitrade International.

The transported 54,907 bags was declared illegally imported by BOC’s Law Office.

However, another company, Yida Trading, filed last October 25 a motion for reconsideration with BOC after its October 8 decision, saying it is the rightful claimant of the sugar.

It claims as evidence the receipt issued to it by Unitrade upon purchase of the goods.

While Yida Trading claims to be the legal owner of the sugar, the group trying to withdraw the volume last Tuesday November 27 has yet to be identified.

“It’s good that Customs people in Bulacan are on their toes. It is to their credit that the sugar has not been pulled out by people who want to make a shortcut and make money at the expense of our sugar industry.”

The importation of the sugar volume was earlier confirmed by NFA to be beyond its allowed number of importation.

As the government has been cracking down on smuggling on many agricultural commodities—rice, onion, vegetables—the sugar industry has sought protection against illegal importation since sugar remains to be a sensitive commodity.

Any slump in price affects farmers as the industry gives jobs to 60,000 farmers planting sugarcane on 420,000 hectares.

The industry contributes P70 billion to the country’s gross domestic product and P2 billion in value added tax.

The sugar industry is already beset with its own worries as Philippine sugar will not be able to compete with Thailand’s sugar, highly subsidized by its government, when the Asean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) becomes in place in 2015.

AFTA will further expose small farmers tilling 10 hectares and below to cut-throat competition. Small farmers running 10 hectares and below represent nearly 90 percent of the sugar industry.

SMPF is now implementing emergency measures to shield farmers from AFTA’s impact

“The 26 mills and refineries are trying to work with the small farmers. We’re setting up safety nets at least mitigate the expected entry of sugar from Thailand by 2015,” said Monasterio.

If supported by government, sugarcane’s used as ethanol feedstock can be further maximized from the present 130 million liter yearly capacity.

Sugarcane is presently the biggest feedstock, almost 100 percent, for the country’s supply of this environment-friendly fuel, substituting dollar-consuming imports.

For any questions, please call Mr. Felixberto T. Monasterio, 0917-815-4076; for interview requests, 0920-715-7186