The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) on Monday said it was not required to consult soft-drink makers before issuing an order that effectively limited the entry of imported high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) into the country.
SRA Administrator Anna Rosario V. Paner made the pronouncement after stakeholders in the sugar industry staged a protest in front of a Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines Inc. (CFPI) plant in Bacolod to denounce Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol.
Piñol had wanted to suspend the implementation of Sugar Order (SO) 3, which imposed additional requirements on importers of HFCS, saying soft-drink makers were not consulted prior to its issuance.
“The SRA’s point was in the exercise of our quasilegislative powers, the agency is not required to have prior consultations before coming up with our rules and regulations,” Paner told the BusinessMirror.
“Even assuming that we are required to do so, we consulted the concerned stakeholders of the SRA, specifically those who have sectoral representatives in the SRA board. Our sectoral representatives include the planters and the millers,” she added.
Paner said they also held consultations with labor groups and food companies. “There were consultations conducted. Maybe the difference is the extent of the consultations in terms of the appreciation of the secretary.”
The SRA is a government-owned and -controlled corporation attached to the Department of Agriculture (DA). Its administrator is appointed by the President, while the DA chief serves as ex officio chairman of the SRA Board
In February the SRA issued SO 3, after farmers and millers complained they were losing some P10 billion a year due to the unregulated entry of HFCS imports being used by local beverage and food producers.
SO 3 specified the guidelines for the issuance of clearance for the release of imported HFCS and chemically pure fructose.
Earlier CFPI had tried to ask the Regional Trial Court in Quezon City to issue a temporary restraining order against SO 3. In a ruling issued on March 10, the court denied CFPI’s petition.
The company argued that some of the provisions of SO 3 undermine their right to import HFCS, while giving the SRA arbitral power “to interfere and place unnecessary restrictions in importing HFCS.”
Currently, Branch 98 of the Quezon City Trial Court is conducting hearings on CFPI’s petition for preliminary injunction.
Piñol said he would convene the SRA Board on March 23 to discuss HFCS importation and the possible suspension of SO 3.
Earlier, Paner said the volume of HFCS imported last year, pegged at 285,000 metric tons, which is equivalent to some 5.7 million 50-kilogram bag, was the highest since 2013. Paner said this displaced nearly 30 percent of the market share for locally produced refined sugar.