Mindanao-Sabah barter trade to resume next year

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Unloading of goods at the port of Bongao in Tawi-tawi on a late aternoon, with Bud Bongao peak as backdrop. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 31 Oct) – The executive order signed on Monday by President Rodrigo Duterte reviving barter trade between Mindanao and Sabah in Malaysia will have to wait until January next year, when Malaysia opens its side for the renewal of centuries-old commercial ties between the two areas.

Executive Order No. 64 was released on Wednesday.

The government hopes reviving the barter trade will not only create jobs and business opportunities but also strengthen trade and commerce among member-states of the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area.

But Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) executive director Romeo Montenegro said that Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal recently announced Malaysia will open its side in January 2019 yet after banning it two years ago.

“It takes two to tango, so to speak. Both Philippines and Malaysia need to have common mechanism and Sabah Chief Minister announced barter resumption for their side by January 2019,” he said.

Sometime in April 2016, Malaysia closed its border with southern Philippines after the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped four Malaysians off Sabah coast. The closure caused prices of food and petroleum to increase by 70%.

Mindanao Business Council chair Vicente T. Lao said barter trade can benefit seaweed producers from the provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi because they have been selling their harvest to Malaysia that has a thriving tourism industry.

“Our Muslim brothers have been trading with Sabah for millennium already. This just formalized the trading that’s been going on there. I think this is good because anything that you can control and you can regulate would be better than just free for all,” he said.

EO 64 created the Mindanao Barter Council to manage the barter trade until the establishment of the Bangsamoro government. Its functions include setting policies, guidelines and regulations.

The council comprises officials from MinDA, Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Customs and other agencies.

It may also invite representatives from among the Muslim ethno-linguistic groups.

Citing the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement and the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement, the EO said member-states will eliminate import duties on several products traded within this region.

But tariff protections and/or quantitative restrictions for certain goods such as rice, corn, and sugar remain and traders must secure special import permits for these items.

Barter ports would be established in the ports of Siasi and Jolo in Sulu, and Bongao in Tawi-Tawi as the order requires that all “goods traded under the barter system shall enter the Philippine territory” only through these ports.

Creation of barter ports in other areas will be subject to the approval of the President but ports owned and operated by private individuals or entities will be excluded.

For systematic and streamlined processing of entry and exit of allowable goods, offices of BOC and Bureau of Internal Revenue shall be established within the MBC-accredited ports.

Barter trading refers to the centuries-old practice when merchants directly exchanged goods for other items or services without using currencies.

The Sulu Archipelago became a major barter trading site long before the Spaniards came, with the Tausug establishing ties with their Southeast Asian neighbors and Chinese and European traders.

The name barter trade has stuck even if tradition has given way to commercial trading. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)

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