Japan ‘softens’stance on PH bananas exports

By Madelaine B. Miraflor

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the Japanese government “appeared” to have softened its stance on long standing issues on tariff and market access for Philippine bananas.

Emmanuel Piñol Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol

Piñol flew to Japan on Wednesday and met with Japan's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Takamori Yoshikawa (MAFF) on a one-on-one engagement in the MAFF Headquarters in Tokyo. During the meeting, Piñol asked Japanese officials to settle long-standing issues on banana tariffs as well as widen market access for Philippine agricultural products.

At present, Japan is one of the countries where imported bananas from the Philippines are taxed heavily. The Philippines has requested for lower tariff on local Cavendish banana being exported to Japan from a range of 8 percent to 18 percent to zero tariff.

According to Piñol, the Japanese government "appeared" to have softened its stand on long-standing issues on tariffs concerning Philippine bananas that enter Japan, among other issues. Piñol’s visit came a week after President Rodrigo Duterte meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

Piñol said that Yoshikawa also "promised" to fast-track the processing of documents and requirements related to the issues raised by the Philippine government during President Duterte's visit.

It is not clear yet, however, if Japan 100 percent agreed on what the Philippines have requested such as the reduction of tariffs on Philippine bananas that enter the East Asian country.

In November last year, a group of Filipino banana exporters sought to have a dialogue with their respective business counterparts abroad as well as foreign government officials including the Japanese in an attempt to secure the country's global market share for bananas.

Banana is one of the Philippines' major fruit crops. The country produces more than 2 million metric tons (MT) every quarter of the year.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that of the country's total banana production, Cavendish variety always record the highest output. During the first quarter of this year, output for Cavendish bananas stood at 1.20 million MT, representing 56.6 percent of the total banana production in the period.

Aside from tariff, Piñol also discussed with Yoshikawa the quarantine issue on the country's banana exports.

The Philippines is seeking an exemption from 100 percent inspection of banana exporting companies that are compliant with the Minimum Residue Level (MRL) of chemicals set by Japanese health authorities.

Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, Inc. (PBGEA), a group of banana exporters from the Philippines, said they are compliant with the Japanese requirement as they raised their concerns that the 100 percent test could only slow down shipments affecting this Philippine export. PBGEA members export 50 percent of their bananas to Japan.

Other things that the two agriculture ministers have discussed include the fast-tracking of the market access for Philippine avocado and the recognition by Japan of the Philippines' status as a Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) Free country. These two things, the DA chief said, are critical for Philippine exports.

Piñol was surprised at the Japanese quick response, which happened just a week after President’s visit to Japan. He said that Japan is known for its stringent protocols on official engagements and it normally takes months before meetings could be arranged.