PH eyes easing sugar imports in 2019

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Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno wants the controversial ₱75 billion additional funding for the Public Works department to remain, counter to what the Senate eyes.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 16) — The Philippine government wants to deregulate or relax restrictions the importation of sugar in 2019, according to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.

"Next is sugar. That's bloodier, I think than rice. You know why? Because it's one of the inputs to our potential exports," Diokno said in a press briefing Wednesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier certified as urgent the rice tariffication bill, which aims to lift the quantitative restictions on rice imports and allows traders to choose from which countries they can import from.

Diokno said the President is also concerned about sugar, coconut products and fish.

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

The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), through an order last October, allowed the importation of 150,000 metric tons (MT) of raw and refined sugar by the private sector to counter inflation.

This is in line with Duterte's Administrative Order 13, which orders to ease importation of all agricultural products.

Diokno claimed easing imports on these products "put pressure on the domestic economy to compete with the rest of the world."

"All commodities, it turned out we are so restrictive with respect to agriculture. Many products," the budget chief explained.

The budget chief reiterated that agriculture is the "weakest link" in the country's economic growth.

Diokno's department found that agriculture only contributed 2.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product in the Duterte administration's first two years.

"If agriculture were to grow by 4 percent, then the economic target of 7 to 8 percent is really doable," Diokno said.

Latest SRA data show that raw sugar's highest price is at P50 per kilo, washed sugar at P55, and refined sugar at P65.