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Sugar producers allege worsening smuggling problem

Sugar producers have asked the government to address what they claimed as the escalating incidence of sugar smuggling. The Confederation of Sugar Producers Association (Confed) noted that while the milling season was still at its peak, smuggled refined sugar had been unloaded in various ports, particularly in Metro Manila, Batangas, La Union, Tarlac, Tuguegarao, Davao and General Santos City. The smuggled refined sugar products were still in their original sacks and the label would show these had come from Thailand, the group said. The Confed called on sugar stakeholders to be vigilant and report to authorities suspicious shipments of sugar. "These criminals are not only depriving the government of much needed revenues that would have been used to boost our economy. They are also killing an industry on which millions of Filipinos are dependent for livelihood," association President Federico Locsin III said. Locsin said the sugar industry would mobilize thousands of sugar plantation workers and their families from nearby sugarcane-producing provinces to complain about alleged state inaction on smuggling. Confed, the largest organization of local sugarcane farmers, has been complaining about the illegal entry of cheap sugar for years now. The group said continued smuggling would ultimately gobble up the sugar industry. Confed officials noted that sugar farmers have been feeling the effects of the entry of smuggled sugar, with prices of local sugar steadily dropping to production cost levels. Sugar traders who bid for the contract to import 60,000 metric tons (MT) of the commodity earlier said they were willing to bring in only a quarter of the total given stabilizing local prices. Last week, the government gave seven traders the greenlight to start importing the duty-free sugar. Local sugar prices have remained stable at P52 per kilogram, latest data from the Bureau of Agriculture Statistics showed. The country plans to import 150,000 metric tons of sugar this year — the first time since 2006 — to stabilize prices, which reached an all-time high of P60 a kilo in January and to ensure enough buffer stock for the lean months. The shipments are expected to arrive in the second and third quarters. This year, the Sugar Regulatory Administration expects sugar supply to reach 2.57 million metric tons by the crop year ending in August, while demand will likely hit 2.1 million metric tons. — NPA, GMANews.TV