Banana growers say territorial dispute with China hurting them
DAVAO CITY—China continues to restrict the entry of banana exports from Mindanao, citing quarantine issues, but banana exporters in the island-region suspect the reason is deeper.
Stephen Antig, executive director of Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), said while China said it was just implementing tighter quarantine procedures as it was also trying to grow bananas, PBGEA and other banana growers’ organizations believe that the move has political undertones.
“We had a 20-30 percent growth in our banana exports to China from 2010 up until 2012,” he said.
Antig said before China’s “strict quarantine policy” was implemented, banana exporters used to send up to 268 million boxes of bananas to China per year.
In 2014, China halted its banana imports from Mindanao and other parts of the Philippines at the height of rage over Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
“The suspension came at the height of the dispute,” Antig said.
Even as China re-allowed the entry of bananas from the Philippines, the volume was a far cry from what exporters had sent in the past, he said.
Antig said Mindanao banana growers could now hardly export 1.6 million boxes per year to China, their main market.
Because of the difficulty in sending products to China, he said at least two banana companies have relocated to Ecuador.
Antig told reporters here that he had personal knowledge of the relocation of the companies, which he would not name as they are PBGEA members.
He said the two companies had entered Ecuador, one of South America’s banana producers, by taking over a total of 4,000 hectares of banana farms there.
Antig said other banana companies might follow suit as the prospect for Mindanao’s banana industry, which is dependent on China, continues to grow dim.
“If government won’t help us, it’s either we pack our bags and move to other countries considering that the Philippines is not the only country that can grow banana,” Antig said.
PBGEA, which counts 27 companies from 15 provinces in Mindanao—including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao—as members, has been calling on the government to help it open more foreign markets. Some of its biggest members are multinationals Dole-Stanfilco, Sumifru and Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc.
The Mindanao Development Authority (Minda) dismissed Antig’s statement, though.
“This is fear of the unknown,” Lualhati Antonino, Minda chair, told reporters when asked to comment on prospects of China completely stopping its banana importation from the Philippines.
Antonino said China is only being strict in its quarantine policy.
“They should settle this among themselves and show proof and solid evidence that China was (being) unreasonable,” Antonino said. Judy Quiros, Inquirer Mindanao
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