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ZERO TARIFF

Exporters press for PH-South Korea deal on bananas

Banana exporters could lose the Korean market if the latter insists on resolving a key trade issue through a longer process.

The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) has urged the government to come up with a bilateral deal with South Korea so that Philippine bananas can enter that country’s market without paying any tariff.

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This comes as South Korea seems bent to reduce tariff on Philippine banana exports through a regional deal that goes beyond the interests of the East Asian country and the Philippines.

South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Han Dong-man previously said that this would be done through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega trade deal that is still on the negotiating table for several years now.

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Even though the Philippines is currently the biggest banana supplier to South Korea, the tropical fruits are slapped with a 30-percent tariff in South Korea.

A bilateral deal with South Korea will give the Philippines a “fighting chance,” according to the industry group, as Central American countries are expected to eventually kick the Philippines out of competition.

PBGEA executive director Stephen A. Antig said in a statement on Thursday that South Korea’s preferred route will take “far too long.”

“The route of RCEP will be far too long and circuitous. Multilateral discussions on this trade pact started in 2012, and are still going on. Who knows when it will be done?” he said.

He added that banana exporters in Peru have already been enjoying zero tariff as early as 2015. By 2020, he said other suppliers like Colombia will enjoy zero tariff.

“Philippine banana exporters are already battling it out in South Korea with competitors granted concessionary import tariff rates. We cannot afford to wait while this happens,” he said.

“This issue must be immediately taken up on a bilateral basis and specific to bananas,” Antig added.

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Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez previously said the government is mulling options on how to move forward.

Lopez said this could either be through a preferential trade agreement or under the Asean-Korea Free Trade Area.

Nevertheless, the industry group cited the Philippines’ efforts to further trade ties with Turkey and Chile.

Without overshadowing other trade ties, the industry group official asked the government to have a serious look at the plight of the industry.

“Although we are not intentionally undermining the importance of such negotiations with our other trade partners, we are still urging Malacañang to immediately and seriously look at the plight of the country’s second-largest agricultural export being charged with atrociously high import tariffs in South Korea,” he said. /kga

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