Foiled sugar imports buoy domestic industry hopes

The move of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to shoot down an attempt to allow sugar import should serve as a message to other industry sectors about the administration’s aversion toward “unusually high volume” of importation.

The step encouraged the agriculture sector and other struggling domestic producers amid the unabated inflow of foreign products to the country, a local industry leader said Sunday.

Earlier, Malacanang said the president, who is concurrent chairman of the Sugar Regulatory Administration Board, and Agriculture Secretary rejected the proposal to import 300,000 metric tons of sugar “in no uncertain terms”.

Amid the fiasco, Agriculture Undersecretary for Operations Leocadio Sebastian, who signed the import authorization supposedly on behalf of the president, has resigned. Malacanang said “heads will roll” as the investigation is ongoing to determine culpability over the illegal imports.

“Like our peers in the sugar sector, we welcome the President’s action against the flood of imported products,” Cirilo Pestano, executive director of the Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines, said.

He cited the uproar caused by the proliferation of imported carrots and other vegetables.

Pestano said the President had shown wisdom in taking the position that a careful balance must be attained between protecting consumers against rising prices of basic commodities and ensuring the viability of local industries.

“We hope that the Marcos administration would extend this policy to other local industries that are facing equal serious threats from the influx of imports,” Pestano added.

CeMAP had asked the Tariff Commission to impose anti-dumping duties against Type 1 and Type 1P cement imports from Vietnam, and to extend the safeguard measures slapped against cement imports in 2019 but which will expire on October.

CeMAP, supported by non-member local manufacturers, told the Tariff Commission that despite the safeguard measures, the volume of imports increased.

Republic Cement’s Vice President for Strategy and Business Development Reinier Dizon told the Tariff Commission during the public hearings that despite constant innovation and operational improvements they made, imports coming at dumped prices caused sustained injury to his company.

“We’re losing revenues, we’re losing volumes despite the operational improvements we have been making,” he stressed.

Citing Bureau of Customs data and the commission’s Staff Report, Holcim Philippines, Inc. Vice President for Sustainability, Ms. Zoe Sibala disclosed during the public hearing proceedings that the volume of imported cement continues to increase and at lower prices at the retail level notwithstanding increases in the prices of fuel and energy.

The share of imports to domestic production in terms of volume increased steadily from zero in 2013 to 5.3 million metric tons in 2019, increasing further to 6.88 MMT in 2021.

On the other hand, the percentage in the share of imports to domestic production rose from zero in 2013 to 26.09 percent in 2019, rising further to 38.42 percent in 2021.

CeMAP’s data indicate that as of 2021 around 91 percent of cement imports were from Vietnam.

The petitioners also underscored that imports volume grew even if local demand for cement never outpaced domestic supply despite work stoppage caused by the pandemic.

With the Ukraine-Russia war fanning record-high prices of fuel and energy—which account for around 70 percent of the cost of cement cash production cost – the petitioners stressed that the local industry needs effective and more permanent protection from unfair trade practices involving imports to survive and stay competitive.

The Tariff Commission has concluded its hearings on CeMAP’s twin petitions and is expected to come out with the ruling soon.