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DA team to go to China to check on stranded banana shipment

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala

MANILA, Philippines — Officials of the Department of Agriculture will go to China this week to check on stranded banana shipments in response to China’s claim that Philippine bananas have been attacked by pests, according to agriculture officials.

Clarito Baron, director of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry, expressed skepticism that Chinese quarantine officials found pests in a shipment of Philippine bananas.

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The pest identified by China does not occur in bananas, according to Baron.

To settle the matter, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala instructed Baron and two other BPI staff to go to China to check the banana exports and verify the suspicion of contamination.

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“There will be a team that will go to China. They will have credentials so that they can open the export shipments,” Alcala said in a press briefing at the People’s Organizations Congress in Davao City.

The DA is also extending an invitation to Chinese quarantine officials to check the plantations and the ports.

“They can check our protocols so that we can prove to China and to other countries that our products have no pests,” Alcala said.

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

China and the Philippines are both claiming ownership of the Panatag Shoal, a chain of reefs and islets  within the Philippine territory.

Baron said China’s insistence that a certain type of scale insect was found in Philippine exports was impossible as this particular pest has never been found to thrive in banana plants.

“They said they intercepted scale insects from an exporting firm. But the species of scale insect they found does not occur in bananas,” Baron said in an interview.

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He added that the international banana seller identified by China also exports to Japan and South Korea. “We have not heard any complaints from them,” Baron said.

Scale insects are parasites that feed on a plant’s sap. Some scale insects can permanently attach themselves to a plant and be resistant to pesticides.

Baron said he and his team have scheduled a trip to Beijing within the week to inspect the 150 forty-foot container vans containing bananas worth $760,000 impounded in Beijing. Baron also noted that bananas in 61 of the container vans have been rotting.

The BPI chief also noted that 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.

If the local banana exports are confirmed to have scale insects, it would be another blow to the banana industry, which is struggling to contain fusarium wilt, a fungal disease that attacks the plant’s vascular system.

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

China is the second biggest export market for Philippine bananas next to Japan. As of February 2012, banana exports to China accounted for 19 percent of the total export during the first 2 months of 2012.

President Aquino urged the DA on Monday to cultivate other export markets. Alcala said the country has been looking at sending more bananas to Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, and the Middle East.

Cambodia also recently expressed interest in Philippine bananas, the DA chief said. “They have no bananas that are as delicious as ours,” Alcala said.

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TAGS: Agriculture, bananas, China, Department of Trade and Industry, Diplomacy, Exports, Foreign Affairs, Global Nation, international relations, Philippines, Scarborough Shoal, Spratly Islands, territorial disputes, territories
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