Aquino: Look for other banana markets

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03:10 AM May 15th, 2012

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May 15th, 2012 03:10 AM

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. MALACANANG PHOTO

DAVAO CITY—President Benigno Aquino on Monday told banana exporters reeling from the stringent rules imposed on their product by China not to put their eggs in one basket and to diversify their markets.

“Last year, we had a similar problem with banana exporters who exported 30 percent of their produce to one country. We told them to diversify their market, dagdagan pa para di matatali sa isang bansa (increase their market so as not be tied to one country),” the President told reporters during a press briefing at Grand Regal Hotel, where he was the guest at the Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP) people’s organizations’ congress.

He said the government was  doing its best to settle the issue with Chinese authorities, with the Department of Agriculture (DA) sending a team of experts to China this week to witness the opening of roughly 1,500 containers of Cavendish bananas being held in at least three Chinese ports allegedly due to pest infestation.

The Philippines is also inviting Chinese experts to come to the country to see for themselves the strict sanitary rules observed by banana exporters at the plant level.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who had a meeting with banana exporters later in the afternoon, said the President’s advice was the best the government could come up although it was doing its best to settle the problem diplomatically with China.

Stephen Antig, president of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), a big banana exporters group, warned that a collapse of the Chinese market could have a severe impact on the industry which employs over a million people in Mindanao.

The Mindanao Banana Farmers Exporters Association (MBFEA), composed of small banana exporters in Mindanao, signed a manifesto asking President Aquino “to do everything” in his power to “save the banana industry.”

But China may just be “pestering” the Philippines when it barred the entry of shipments of bananas due to scale insect infestation, agriculture officials said Monday.

Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Director Clarito Baron said the pest identified by China did not occur in bananas.

Baron said Chinese authorities informed the Philippines on  March 5, a month before the feud over Panatag Shoal flared up, that the bananas from the plantations in Mindanao were contaminated with pests.

To settle the matter, Alcala Monday said Baron and two BPI staffers will go to China to check the stranded banana exports and validate the suspicion of contamination.

“They will have credentials so that they can open the export shipments,” Alcala said in a press briefing at the people’s organizations congress.

The BPI chief also said they would send a shipment of bananas from Davao to Beijing in time for their inspection this week. “We will let them open it so that they can see that our bananas are clean,” Baron said.

Beijing wants Manila to conduct a quarantine inspection of all the containers. Before March 5, Beijing was content with random inspections of banana exports, Baron said.

The Philippines is one of the world’s top banana exporters, utilizing some 80,000 hectares of land in Mindanao for banana production.

The country is the number one exporter of bananas to Japan, South Korea, China and New Zealand, making the fruit one of the country’s top dollar earners. In 2010, total export earnings for fresh Cavendish banana was pegged at $720 million.

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