Tuna can be the fish of peace

American Embassy officials think so, according to Francisco J. Buencamino, executive director of the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines.

He said American Embassy officials who had held talks with tuna industry players believed that increasing the value of tuna earnings via lowering of levy charges would contribute to the peace process in Mindanao “in Mindanao in line with the wider campaign against global terrorism and world peace.”

Currently, in-quota shipments in the United States are slapped with a 6- percent tariff while out-quota shipments are imposed a 12.5-percent tax.

The Andean Trade Pact, wherein the United States gives preference to Andean member countries, will end in December this year.

Under this scheme, Andean countries have been allowed to ship in their tuna in pouches at zero-percent tariff.

Buencamino suggested they want to enjoy the same privileges the US accorded to Andean member countries.

The market share of Philippine tuna in 2004 was at 10.75 percent valued at $74 million, although its share of the volume was at 18 percent, he said.

He noted the United States wanted to increase the Philippines’ tuna export as doing so would create more jobs essential in enhancing the peace process in Mindanao, where tuna production activities are concentrated.

Mindanao has been plagued by an intermittent wars waged by Moro and communist rebel groups.  

Peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been stalled by the ticklish ancestral domain agenda, which includes issues on territory and governance.

Agriculture Secretary Domingo F. Panganiban said the peace process in Mindanao remains one of the top priorities of the Arroyo administration for the island to finally realize its full economic potentials.

“One of the vital industries in Mindanao is the tuna industry and the government is keen on developing this industry to further boost the economy as well as the peace process,” he told MindaNews.

Panganiban appeared bullish over the prospects of the tuna industry as he stressed it earns for the country annual revenues of over a quarter of billion dollars.

“The Philippine government is currently investing considerable sums into the evelopment of Mindanao and its strongest industries,” he said in a separate

He said the government has intensified diplomatic efforts to expand the country’s foreign markets as the public and private sectors fight to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers.

Buencamino said the chances of lowering the tariff of Philippine tuna in the US market would have to be discussed thoroughly and should be hammered through a special bilateral agreement.

“There are political implications that have to be considered,” he said but did not elaborate.

He acknowledged that there is so much to discuss with their American counterparts.

The three basic agreements that affect Philippine tuna exports to the United States are the Andean Trade Pact, the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Generalized System of Preference, and the Central American Free Trade Agreement, he said.

“If we double our efforts in working out schemes and arrangements with the US, perhaps we can be dealt a better set of cards,” Buencamino said. (MindaNews)