Philippines looks to new banana markets amid Chinese debacle

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Philippines looks to new banana markets amid Chinese debacle

Philippine banana growers are looking for new markets such as Russia while the industry seeks to rebuild its export channels with China, which have been restricted since May.

The restrictions have been widely attributed to a territorial dispute between the two countries over the dispute over the Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island to the Chinese.

Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association executive director Stephen Antig told Chinese quarantine officials introduced the sudden imposition of very strict sanitary and phytosanitary measures after allegedly discovering pests in a banana shipment.

"Even if it is true that mealy bugs were discovered in some of the shipments, these pests are not really hazardous to human health as I was informed," Antig said.

"Presently producers and exporters are already implementing the improvements required by the Chinese government in coordination with our own quarantine officials.

"The Philippine government will also be introducing a zero tolerance system to ensure that bananas exported to the foreign markets will be free from infestations."

Antig highlights around 20-30% of the industry's produce normally goes to China, so its closure could lead to excess fruit that drive down prices when shipped to other markets.

"The slowing or reduction of importation from the Philippines will also be an opportunity for the other producing countries to enter China which we have considered to be one of our traditional markets.

"However, the China market has a very significant impact on the small banana growers who are exporting almost 90% of their produce to that country.

"Because of the very stringent phytosanitary requirements, they experienced a lot of rejections which translate to revenue lost."

He said some of these small growers could not afford to improve their production and packaging facilities and have either abandoned their farms or left them to other businesspeople.

"Of course you can see a lot of fruits being left on trees and some simply dumped along the roads to rot. Those that can still be saved and consumed are given free to victims of calamities.

"Other growers have already started to reduce their manpower to avoid further losses.

"But then, the industry believes that it will be able to weather this problem. This is not the first time we encountered a banana price and market crisis."

The industry already exports to Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Indonesia among others, and is looking elsewhere too.

"The industry is also embarking on several outbound business missions to identify new markets that can absorb the volume of fruits being exported to China just in case there will be a total market closure.

"We have actually been doing this on a continuing basis. One of those identified is Russia and trial shipments have been made."

Related story: Philippines losing US$16M in bananas from Chinese reef dispute

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