(Feb. 24) — Cotabato Rep. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza has urged Australia “to stop unreasonably stalling the entry of Philippine banana exports.”
“We are saddened that up to now, Australia has yet to eliminate apparent barriers to the freer entry of Philippine bananas,” said Taliño-Mendoza, whose home province is one of the country’s top producers of the tropical fruit for export.
Taliño-Mendoza was reacting to a report by the Philippines’ Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), which claimed that Canberra continues to obstruct banana exports from Manila through the imposition of unusually difficult quarantine controls.
Cotabato (formerly North Cotabato) and other Mindanao provinces produce bananas that are exported to Japan, the US, South Korea and the Middle East, primarily the United Arab Emirates. The fruit is being produced in vast and modern plantations that directly and indirectly engage tens of thousands of Filipinos.
The large banana plantation operators in Cotabato include Japan’s Sumitomo Fruits Corp. and Standard Philippines Fruit Corp., a subsidiary of US multinational Dole Food Co., the world’s largest producer of high-value fresh and packaged fruits.
“For years, Philippine bananas have been well-received by other countries reputed to have excellent quarantine standards. There’s really no reason for Australia to adopt overly prohibitive measures against our bananas,” Taliño-Mendoza said.
She dismissed as “exaggerated and distorted” the risk of possible pest flare-ups originating from Philippine bananas.
“It would seem they are just raising the bogey of potential pest and disease outbreaks as an excuse to delay Philippine banana shipments,” she said.
According to the BPI, Biosecurity Australia has recommended conditions that “are very stringent, costly and restrictive” for Philippine banana exporters.
Biosecurity Australia provides quarantine assessment and policy advice to Australia’s farm sector.
The extra restrictions allow banana exports only from areas that have shown low pest prevalence, involve the presence of Australian inspectors in plantations and packaging facilities, and provide extensive documentation for prior examination by Canberra.
Canberra also wants the paperwork of banana exporters to include detailed data proving the adoption of extremely rigorous quarantine standards, plus the results of supporting laboratory and field experiments as well as commercial trials.
The Philippines has been pushing for access to Australia’s banana market, worth some $50 million annually. Australia’s refusal to relax exceptionally tough controls against Philippine bananas prompted Manila to file a complaint against Canberra before the World Trade Organization in 2002.
Australia produces only 270,000 metric tons (MT) of bananas every year. In comparison, the Philippines produces around 7.5 million MT, mostly from Mindanao.