Philippines mulls allowing drinks firms to directly import sugar in rare step

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MANILA, Aug 19 (Reuters) - The Philippines is considering allowing industrial sugar users like beverage producers to directly import the sweetener, a rare step to address domestic shortages, the president's press secretary said on Friday.

The government must approve all sugar imports in the Philippines, a measure designed to protect local producers who employ thousands, and normally only allows this to be done through traders to address shortages at retailers.

Trixie Cruz-Angeles said half of an upcoming 150,000-tonne sugar importation mooted by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr earlier this week may, however, be allotted directly to industrial users.

"It is seriously being considered," she told a media briefing.

High prices of the sweetener, which the industry regulator has blamed on local shortages caused by adverse weather and other factors, have become a major economic concern in the Philippines as inflation hit a four-year high in July.

Soda and fruit juice makers Coca Cola Beverages Philippines Inc, ARC Refreshments Corp, and Pepsi-Cola Products Philippines also recently issued a statement confirming a shortage of bottlers' grade sugar.

Cruz-Angeles said the government was also looking into "what appears to be an artificial shortage" following raids this week of some sugar warehouses suspected of hoarding to boost prices.

Allowing industrial users to directly import sugar is a way of cutting such unscrupulous traders out of the supply chain. (Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz Editing by John Geddie)