Agriworkers demand stop to HFCS imports, other neoliberal attacks

 

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Sugar workers join anti-imperialist protests in Negros. Photo by NFSW.

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) support sugar workers and planters in their call to stop the importation of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).

Hundreds of sugar workers from Batangas, led by UMA affiliate KAISAHAN based in Batangas province will hold a picket in front of the Senate today to oppose this most recent neoliberal onslaught against the sugar industry and the livelihood of sugar workers.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that the recent effects of HFCS importation on the price on domestic sugar clearly demonstrates the vulnerability and weakness of the Philippine sugar industry against so-called global competition within the imperialist neoliberal economic framework.

HFCS which only has 3% ad valorem tax in 2016 flooded the market from 2011-2016 with almost 800,000 metric tons of imports coming into the country. This threatened the Philippine sugar industry by lowering the price of sugar. One of the biggest users of HFCS is Coca-Cola Philippines.

“The sugar industry has always been tied to US imperialist interests and demands, and not for our domestic needs and development of our national industries. Coca Cola and other beverage companies where sugar barons are selling our domestic sugar are US-dominated multinational giants,” said Ramos.

Since 2011, HFCS importation volumes have already displaced almost 1 million metric tons of our domestic sugar resulting in billions of pesos in losses for the Philippine economy. In 2011 to 2014, the average annual importation of HFCS is only 77,967 metric tons. But in 2015 and 2016, the average importation tripled to 227,510 metric tons annually.

This also came at the same time when the Philippines agreed to gradually lower the tariff of imported sugar from 38% in 2011 to just 5% in 2015, due to “zero tariff” impositions of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA).

To offset the competition from lower priced imported sugar from other countries including Thailand, the government adopted two Sugar Industry Roadmaps which failed from the onset. This was even institutionalized by a new law, the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (SIDA), which was signed by former Pres. Aquino in 2015.

Not only did government fail to meet its target expansion of sugarcane areas, sugar importation also hit a high of 200,000 tons in 2016. According to Ramos, with these sugar road maps giving premium to interests of big landlords and sugar barons, the government is simply prescribing a neoliberal cure for the same neoliberal malady.

Low sugar prices because of cheaper imports give landlords and sugar barons more reason to press down already low – almost slave-like wages – of sugar workers both in the field and in the mills.

NFSW Secretary General John Milton Lozande said that in Negros Occidental where 60% of sugar is produced, the average monthly net wage of sugar field workers is only P700 – P1,000. In Hacienda Luisita, it was recently exposed that almost a thousand sacadas or migratory sugar workers from Mindanao were paid an average of P9.50 a day. The lowest obtained payroll revealed that a worker was paid only P38.26 a week or P5.47 a day.

Workers in the most prominent sugar mills such as Victorias Milling Corporation in Negros and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) in Tarlac are increasingly becoming contractuals.

UMA warned that the case of HFCS is also true with other Philippine agricultural commodities like rice and corn where imminent volume and tariff restrictions of importation will be lifted in June 2017 as per commitment to the AFTA. Thus cheap rice imports from ASEAN member states will flood the Philippine market at the expense of millions of our local farmers.

“This current crisis could replicate poverty and famine experienced by Negros sugar workers during the mid-1970s to later part of 1980s. This will recur if the Duterte government turns a blind eye to the necessary socio-economic reforms for the sugar industry and local agriculture,” said Lozande.

UMA and NFSW share the call for genuine land reform and national industrialization through the passage of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) or House Bill 555 authored by Anakpawis Partylist and the Makabayan bloc in Congress, or the crafting and signing of a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) in the GRP-NDFP peace talks.

“We need to review all international economic-trade agreements and policies entered into by the government and redirect our national economic programs to truly develop our domestic economy and protect the welfare of our local work force,” said Ramos.

 

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