Sen. Pangilinan wants new envoy to Iran to talk about banana embargo

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/3 Dec) – Senator Francis Pangilinan said he will recommend to President Aquino the immediate appointment of a Philippine Ambassador to Iran to represent the country in the light of problems faced by Philippine bananas as a result of the United States’ trade embargo on Iran.

”There are just several steps to take but among the immediate steps, I will recommend to the President to appoint an Ambassador to Iran to represent the interest of the country,” Pangilinan said at the end of the Senate hearing here Thursday to look into and mitigate the adverse impact the US economic sanctions on Iran had on Philippine bananas.

After US President Barack Obama signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISDA) this year, Mindanao banana exporters started having trouble entering the Iran market, considered to be their biggest market in the Middle East. CISDA imposed economic sanctions on Iran to pressure the Middle Eastern country into giving up its nuclear program.

Stephen Antig, the president of the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), said Iran may have excluded the Philippine bananas from the list of products banned in Iran but the Iranian government had stopped issuing import licenses to companies, preventing Philippine banana exports from entering the market.

”There is no ban (on Philippine bananas) but they have stopped issuing import licenses, so as far as I’m concerned, there really is a ban,” Antig said.

He believed that a Philippine Ambassador to Iran will help solve the problem because there will be someone representing the country who can talk to his Iranian counterpart and iron out whatever ”misunderstandings” the two countries may have.

”Presently, we have trade attaches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai but they have difficulties going to Iran,” Antig said.

At current buying price of US$3.5 per box and at the foreign exchange rate of P44 a dollar, Mindanao exporters estimate to lose P332.64 million if they fail to ship the 2.16 million boxes bound for Iran this year, Antig said.

Pangilinan, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said he would also recommend a high level delegation, including the agriculture secretary and trade attaches, to go to Iran to iron out some ”misunderstandings” regarding Philippine banana exports.

”Exporters are having problems opening their letters of credit and import licenses, which are best addressed through person-to-person talks with the government of Iran,” Pangilinan said.

Exporters said the Philippines is the world’s second largest banana exporter, next only to Ecuador. The Philippines rakes in US$720 million from banana exports a year, providing jobs to 240,000 workers. Iran consumes 25 million boxes of bananas a year, mostly sourced from 9,000 hectares of banana farms in Southwestern Mindanao, exporters said. (Germelina Lacorte / MindaNews)