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Aquino urges banana exporters to diversify market

/ 01:36 AM May 15, 2012

Arakan, North Cotabato women wash Cavendish bananas ready for export as this mountainous town has become a center for agribusiness in Central Mindanao area. With GSP privileges, the Philippines will be able to export bananas, among others, to the US without having to pay corresponding tariffs. PHOTO BY PINOY GONZALES/PDI CONTRIBUTOR

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

“Last year, we have 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 (market), para di matatali sa isang bansa,” the President, who guested the Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP) peoples’ organizations’ congress, told a press briefing at the Grand Regal Hotel.

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But he said the country is doing its best to settle the problem with Chinese authorities, with the Department of Agriculture sending a team of agriculture experts to China this week to witness the opening of the container vans being held in at least three Chinese ports, allegedly for some insects earlier discovered.

Aside from the team of agriculture experts being sent to China, the Philippines is also inviting Chinese experts to come to the Philippines to see for themselves the strict sanitary rules observed by banana exporters at the plant level.

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But 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 can come up with, so far, regarding the tension that the Philippine government is having with China.

“The order of the President is the best that he can do,” Alcala said.

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

Alcala, however, said the government is doing its best to settle the problem with China as diplomatically as possible.

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

“We, small farmers and exporters, strongly appeal to you, our President, to save the banana industry from eminent collapse,” the MBFEA manifesto said.

“Very recent developments in the China banana market have proven to be grievously detrimental to our means of livelihood,” it said, adding that stringent quality inspections by Beijing customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) have put on hold 1,500 containers of their bananas for exports at China’s major ports in China without adequate plug-in facility.

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“On inspection, the incidence of a single box with insect or mealy bug infestation unfairly yields in the rejection of the entire shipment container,” the exporters said.

“We fear the worst as this may eventually lead to the closure of the China market in our banana export industry,” the exporters’ manifesto said, adding that small Mindanao growers and exporters make up 50 per cent of the Philippine banana industry with a planted area of approximately 15,000 hectares, and majority of them exporting their bananas to China.

At least 40 per cent of the bananas going through the Davao International port in Sasa are being exported to China.

“The economic implication of the closure or even just the stricture of the China banana export market to us is enormous, and would certainly ripple its way throughout the Philippine export industry,” the MBFEA manifesto warned.

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