PH experts head to China to resolve banana issue

Posted at 05/14/12 5:58 PM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - A team of Filipino experts from the Department of Agriculture (DA) will head to China this week to try to find a way to resolve delays of Philippine banana exports.

Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo on Monday said Philippine exports of bananas have slowed down, if not halted, due to China's inspection process. He said the impact of the delays of banana exports would only be temporary.

Philippine fruit exporters have said their shipments, especially bananas, are now rotting in Chinese ports because pests had been discovered in some produce, prompting stricter quarantine inspections by Chinese authorities.

Domingo said the government is treating this as a technical issue, which is why a team of Filipino technical experts from the DA are being sent to China to find out why shipments of bananas have been denied entry since March.

"Right now we are looking at it as a technical issue," he said.

The DTI Secretary expressed hope this matter would not lead to a total ban or affect other Philippine exports, saying a total ban would hurt the Philippines.

Domingo also downplayed a possible connection between the delays in banana exports and the Philippines and China's dispute over islands in the South China Sea.

"I am not saying (the Scarborough Shoal issue) has nothing to do with it, I hope not," he said.

Agriculture Assistant Secretary Salvador Salacup said total agriculture exports to China amounted to $390 million in 2011. Of the total, 60% is comprised of bananas while the rest are smaller exports of pineapple, mangoes and papaya and seafoods like fish fillet and octopus.

Salacup also invited Chinese authorities to visit banana export facilities in Mindanao to check on the quality of fruit exports.

Asked what happens if the issue over banana exports is linked to the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines and whether succeeding exports may also be affected, Salacup said the proper thing to do would be to promote exports to other markets.

DTI's Domingo said the Philippines can look for alternative markets for bananas in North Asia and the Middle East and increase exports to Japan and Korea.  - With report from Alvin Elchico, ABS-CBN News