Banana exporters appeal to gov’t to relax tariff rates

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 9 March) – An association of banana exporters appealed to the Philippine government to re-negotiate with its Japanese counterpart the imposition of tariff rates on the country’s export products as the country’s banana industry “is in a very bad situation.”

During the weekly “Wednesday’s Habi at Kape” at the Abreeza Mall, Pilipino Bananna Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) executive director Stephen Antig said the government must take up this issue during the resumption of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement negotiation slated to happen this year.

“We cannot afford not to be hopeful,” he said of the negotiation.

Antig said a letter addressed to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala was submitted last week to inform him of the banana industry’s concerns regarding the Japan’s tariff rates that range from 8.5 percent during the April 1 to September 30 season, and 18.5 percent of total value from October 1 to March 31. Japan reportedly imposes higher tariffs in the latter period as this is the fruit season in Japan, and they thus want to protect their own fruit growers.

“We are in a very bad industry situation… We urge the government to be more supportive,” he said.

Antig stressed that the Japaenese government and importers are willing to relax, if not eliminate the tariff rates, but the Philippine government “is not doing anything” to help its farmers. “Mindanao will not be Mindanao without the banana industry,” he pointed out.

A two-percent increase on tariff is implemented every 10 years, according to Antig.

He said Japan remained to be the biggest market of Philippine bananas, comprising a whopping 92 percent of its total banana imports. Japan’s other sources are Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Taiwan, Mexico, Colombia, Thailand, Costa Rica, China, Mozambique, and the Dominican Republic.

Citing data from Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Antig said the value of banana exports registered in 2015 was $430.94 million, down by $1.3 billion in 2014.

But emerging banana producing countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Lao threaten to eat up the Philippine’s market share, as the Japanese buyers might consider sourcing from these countries that sell bananas at even lower prices.

Records from the PBGEA also showed that banana growers were able to produce 85,324,491 boxes from January to September 2015, which reduced by 5.35 percent as compared to 90,147,480 boxes of the same period in 2014.

Antig said the El Nino, which is expected to last until June this year based on the weather forecast of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical, Astronomical, and Services Administration (PAGASA), has even worsened the situation of the banana industry.

“The worst is yet to come,” he said, as he emphasized that the impact of the El Nino will be felt three to six months after it ends.

Antig said that he is hoping the industry would recover next year.

The PBGEA has a total of 27 member companies, covering 40,000 hectares of the 83,000 has. planted to bananas in Mindanao.