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Superintendencia de Competencia
Competencia

Acciones de promoción de competencia en el mercado del azúcar

Por: Jaime Antonio Baires*

La Superintendencia de Competencia (SC) elaboró el “Estudio sobre la Caracterización de la Agroindustria Azucarera y sus Condiciones de Competencia”, y aunque este se finalizó en octubre del 2008, sus conclusiones siguen vigentes ya que las condiciones detectadas prevalecen a la fecha.

Entre los aportes relevantes del estudio está reconocer la importancia de proteger a la agroindustria azucarera, sobre todo al eslabón de productores de caña de azúcar conformado por 7,000 agricultores, un 41% de ellos pequeños productores y cooperativas (2008). En la cadena de producción participan además seis ingenios que manufacturan el azúcar, una empresa empacadora (EMPAQSA) y DIZUCAR, que domina las políticas de distribución mayorista. Estas dos empresas son controladas por los ingenios mediante vinculaciones accionarias.

Esta agroindustria es protegida a nivel mundial a través de subsidios a la producción, aranceles altos que restringen el comercio internacional, condiciones que incentivan a una oferta excedentaria del azúcar, cuya producción local se comercializa en un 47% en mercados internacionales de bienes que están sujetos a volatilidad en sus precios. En el período de análisis que comprendió el estudio (2005 – 2008), se exportó azúcar a un precio inferior al costo de producción, los que fueron compensados por el mantenimiento de precios altos al consumidor local, ya sea hogares o industrias.

El régimen de protección nacional está determinado principalmente por la “Ley de la Producción, Industrialización y Comercialización de la Agroindustria Azucarera de El Salvador” (Ley del Azúcar), vigente desde el 2001. Esta ley crea una cantidad de distorsiones al mercado, entendidas como las situaciones en la que existen precios y niveles de producción superiores a un mercado en condiciones de competencia.

La Ley del Azúcar establece la creación del Consejo Salvadoreño de la Agroindustria Azucarera (CONSAA), entidad autónoma encargada de la regulación, supervisión y vigilancia de las actividades de la agroindustria. Una primera distorsión es causada por la composición del Directorio del CONSAA, conformada por ocho miembros: un representante del Ministerio de Economía (MINEC), uno del Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería (MAG), tres de los productores de caña y tres de los ingenios, lo cual está estipulado en el artículo 7 de la ley. Además, para establecer quórum en sus sesiones y por tanto, tomar decisiones, la asistencia requerida es de cinco miembros, uno del sector público y el resto de los privados, que al mismo tiempo son los sujetos regulados (Artículo 10).

Esta composición y reglas de quórum generan un claro conflicto de intereses que menoscaba la transparencia y eficiencia en este mercado, considerando la amplitud de atribuciones del Directorio del CONSAA, entre las que se encuentra la autorización de potenciales nuevos ingenios.

Los artículos 19 y 20 de la ley determinan la asignación anual de la distribución de cuotas de venta de los ingenios. Esto equivale a repartir el mercado en proporciones fijas para cada participante, lo que elimina la competencia así como los incentivos para captar un mayor porcentaje de ventas, generando efectos análogos a un cartel o acuerdo entre competidores. Lo anterior ha provocado que las condiciones de venta en el mercado local se unifiquen, por ejemplo mediante un precio único al consumidor final. Por tanto, los ingenios se comportan como un monopolio con la capacidad de obtener altas ganancias en detrimento de los consumidores.

La participación de las cuotas y por consiguiente de las ventas de los ingenios existentes que se muestra en el siguiente gráfico no obedece a estrategias empresariales como en otras actividades económicas en las que predomina la competencia, sino a disposiciones que son aprobadas por el Consejo Directivo del CONSAA.

Distribución de cuotas por Ingenio. 2013

Fuente: CONSAA

Fuente: CONSAA

Como un paliativo a los efectos negativos del cartel, el artículo 22 de la Ley del Azúcar faculta al MINEC y al MAG, con base en las recomendaciones del CONSAA, a establecer un precio máximo del azúcar para las ventas en el país, mecanismo que no ha sido aplicado a la fecha, permitiendo sostener precios únicos y excesivos al consumidor que son producto del cartel. Por ejemplo, el precio promedio anual por libra del azúcar a nivel local aumentó en más del 14% entre el 2005 y 2009, de US$0.35 a US$0.40.

Producto de las distorsiones anteriores, se genera una pérdida de bienestar en el consumidor. Considerando la diferencia que existe entre el precio que paga el consumidor local y el precio internacional, se estimaron transferencias de ingresos a la agroindustria por un total de US$237 millones acumulados entre el 2005 y 2009.

Como resultado del estudio, la SC propuso en el 2008 una serie de reformas a la ley, principalmente con el fin de eliminar la distribución de cuotas, establecer un pago más justo a los productores de caña mediante el reconocimiento de los ingresos provenientes de la industrialización del bagazo utilizado en la generación de energía eléctrica y de otros derivados de la caña, modificaciones en la composición del Directorio del CONSAA y sus reglas de quórum, entre otras. En adición, se propuso la definición de estrategias para diversificar las fuentes de ingreso de la agroindustria mediante la producción de etanol y energía eléctrica.

Las recomendaciones fueron retomadas por el Comité Interinstitucional impulsado por la SC para discutir y consensar esas propuestas, conformado por representantes de las Secretarías Técnica y de Asuntos Jurídicos de la Presidencia, MINEC, MAG y SC. El consenso interinstitucional condujo a elaborar en el 2013 un proyecto de decreto de reformas para aminorar en el corto plazo los efectos negativos del cartel, enfatizando en la aplicación del artículo 22 de la ley, una distribución de cuotas más equitativa a favor de los ingenios de menor tamaño y con mayor eficiencia, el pago más justo a los productores de caña, la reconformación del Directorio del CONSAA y la limitación de sus atribuciones, entre otras.

Dos reformas han sido retomadas por el MINEC, las referentes a la retribución del pago a  los productores de caña y la modificación del Directorio del CONSAA, aunque esta última difiere sustancialmente de la propuesta original. Estas se encuentran actualmente en estudio en la Asamblea Legislativa. En fecha reciente, la SC ratificó la necesidad de retomar las propuestas originales del estudio mediante la emisión de una opinión sobre el proyecto de reformas elaborado por el MINEC, dado que las distorsiones del mercado no se eliminarían con su aprobación.

– Los comentarios en este artículo expresan la opinión del autor –

 

*El autor es economista, con estudios de Postgrado en Estadística e Investigación, ambos de la Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas” (UCA). Se desempeña como Coordinador de la Unidad de Estudios Sectoriales de la Superintendencia de Competencia, con más de 8 años de trabajar en tal autoridad.

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