Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Bitter-Sweet Symphony. Philippine Sugar Industry vs. HFCS

In 2011,  Sugar Watch, composed mainly of labor groups and agrarian reform beneficiaries initiated a boycott of Coca-Cola products nationwide if  the Coca Cola Bottlers Philippines Inc. (CCBPI) refused to heed their call to stop importing sugar premixes and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and instead use domestically produced sugar. They were joined by the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations, National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines, and other independent sugar groups. 

But the CCBPI replied that premix importations of HFCS’ have always complied with government’s Tariff Code and does not violate any of its provisions. The company cited that it also buys locally produced sugar but refused to give the exact volume citing “competitive information” reasons.

HFCS is sourced from corn syrup and Coca Cola has been cited in many other countries for substituting it for sugar as in cases also in Mexico.

HFCS comes as a cheaper sugar substitute since the corn industry in the United States, a top corn producer in the world is highly subsidized by the US government.

Thus, the battle lines has been drawn since 2011.

Recently,  a forum on the HFCS issue was conducted undertaken by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA). This was the first held outside of Quezon City being hekld at Ormoc City for the first time. This was participated in by the SRA Board and attended and lauded by 70 sugar farmers and associations.    

The SRA issued an order to regulate the importation of HFCS in the country.

Importation of HFCS is proving to be detrimental to the local sugar industry with losses amounting to billions of pesos. HFCS imports recently surged to an equivalent of 5 million bags of sugar that affected the prices of locally produced sugar and hurt the welfare of sugar farmers.

“Non-compliance with the provisions,” SRA warned, “shall subject the importer or consignee to the penalties provided under Sugar Order No. 10, series of 2009-2010, as amended by Sugar Order No. 10-A, series of 2009-2010, without prejudice to any other administrative and/or legal action that the SRA may pursue.”

Ever since the collapse of the Philippine Sugar Industry in the 1970’s, the once mighty industry sector has never fully recovered. Philippine sugar was once one of the twin towers of the Philippine agricultural industry, the other tower being the coconut industry. Even during this time, most of the Philippine population resides in the rural areas and poverty incidence has remained high in this. In fact, 60% of those living in poverty come from the rural areas.

The sugar industry needs all the help it can get to be more competitive again. Importation of HFCS will be like driving nails into the coffin of the industry.

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The Mail Man

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www.agricultureph.com - The Philippines' Web Magazine on Agriculture.

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