Gov't to deregulate sugar imports in 2019

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is eyeing the deregulation, if not relaxation, of government restrictions, on sugar imports this year, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said on Wednesday, January 16.

In a media briefing, Diokno revealed that sugar "is next on their list" of agricultural products that they will be deregulating after rice.

"Next is sugar [to be deregulated.] That's bloodier. You know why? It's one of the inputs to our potential exports. We are so restrictive with respect to agriculture. Many products," Diokno said.

The budget chief explained that removing restrictions on sugar imports would "put pressure on the domestic economy to compete with the rest of the world."

"Sugar in the Philippines is every expensive compared to global prices. We plan to deregulate or relax that industry," he said.

Diokno said that President Rodrigo Duterte is also "concerned" about coconut products and fish.

In September, Inquirer.net reported that the Sugar Regulatory Administration has decided to allow the private sector to import 200,000 metric tons of sugar to prevent an increase in retail prices, citing domestic supply issues. 

Duterte had also abolished the Philippine Sugar Corporation in October, for supposedly not effectively fulfilling its role of boosting the country's sugar industry.

Philsucor was also among the GOCCs that shortchanged the government through non-declaration, failure to record, failure to remit, or under-remittance of dividends from 2004 to 2014.

Dismal agricultural output

Diokno also noted that the meager agricultural output in the past year was a factor in the government's failure to reach its 7%-8% economic growth target.

The budget department found that the contribution of the agricultural sector in gross domestic product (GDP) growth was only 2.2% in the first two years of the Duterte administration.

"Agriculture is the weakest link. This is bad in our desire to reduce poverty," Diokno said.

The budget chief said that if agriculture grew by at least 4%, then the 7% target for economic growth "could have been doable."

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol earlier lamented budget cuts in his agency, and pointed out that "they need support" to hit their growth targets.

But Diokno pointed out that instead of increasing the Department of Agriculture's (DA) budget, new policy reforms would improve agriculture.

"To grow the agricultural sector, we have to focus on improving our agricultural policies. Policy reforms, not bigger budget, will help Philippine agriculture expand," Diokno said.

The DA previously asked for P123 billion for 2019, but was granted only P49 billion in the proposed budget.

Diokno said the DA should instead look into deregulation of commodities, mechanization, adapting to higher quality of seeds, and irrigation to boost the country's agricultural outputs. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

image