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Salceda: Banana sector faces “life or death” situation this decade; House agri vice chair asks PBBM to push for zero tariffs for PH banana in Japan

October 23rd, 2022

House Ways and Means Chair Joey Sarte Salceda (Albay, 2nd district), who is also vice chair of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, is warning about a “life-or-death decade” for the country’s banana sector, saying that disease, global competition, investor flight, and climate change threaten the survival of the country’s second largest agricultural export.

“If we don’t act on the problems of the sector, we will lose our dominance over bananas in Asia by 2030. Climate change and disease are existential threats to the sector. But relatively high tariffs in our main banana markets, high input costs, and competition from other players are killing the sector by slow but steady strangulation.”

Salceda pinpointed that the most important change that is within the control of President Marcos, also Secretary of Agriculture, is to push for zero tariffs for Philippine bananas in Japan, the country’s main market for banana exports, and a leading ally of the country.

“There is one single, most important, most immediate effort for the country’s domestic banana sector: Zero tariffs for Philippine bananas in Japan, our strategic partner.”

Salceda cited that Japan has already slashed tariff to zero for Mexico, Peru, Cambodia, and Laos. Salceda adds that Laos and Cambodia are already becoming emerging sources of banana exports, after Filipino farmers were “pirated” in these farms.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s tariff is now at 8 percent and will be zero by 2028. The effective tariff rate for the country’s bananas is still 8-13 percent.

“There are less typhoons in all of these competitors. And these countries are arguably less important as a geostrategic partner for Japan than the Philippines is. So, I think morally and geopolitically, we can strongly argue for zero tariffs for Philippine bananas in Japan. I ask PBBM to place this atop his priorities in discussions with the Japanese government,” Salceda added.

Salceda said that agricultural exports for the Philippines is also a “lifeline during our current currency and balance-of-payments issues.”

Pre-pandemic, the Philippines exported roughly USD 2 billion in bananas. By 2021, it declined to just over USD 1 billion.

Biological issues remain crucial

Salceda also says that Fusarium wilt, also known as Panama disease, could “kill the industry just as disease killed the abaca export sector in my province of Albay. From planter, we are now merely an aggregator, largely because of disease in the 1980s.”

“Take this as a cautionary tale. Abaca used to make Albay the richest province in the country during the early 1900s.”

Salceda urged the Department of Agriculture to consider taking the Crop Pest Management Division under the Bureau of Plant Industry “out of the recesses of the bureaucracy” and transform it into a main unit of the DA.

“Pests are already posing the main existential threat to our onion industry. If we don’t get that right, you can say permanently goodbye to local onions this decade. The situation could be the same for bananas.”

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