Group pushes for more fisheries and aquaculture export economic zones

Food security advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan is pushing for the establishment of more export economic zones dedicated to fisheries and aquaculture, a move that will help boost the country’s production of processed and value-added aquaculture products for both domestic and export market.

In a briefing, Tugon Kabuhayan Convenor and former Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Asis Perez told reporters that there’s a need for the national government and local government units (LGUs), as well as the private sector, to begin actively coordinating to establish more aquaculture economic zones.

To recall, the Special Economic Zone Act of 1995 provides fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, such as tax holidays and simplified import-export procedures, to businesses located inside such zones.

The incentives available include tax-free importations of capital equipment, construction materials, specialized office equipment, and vehicles, professional instruments. In addition, industries in the ecozone are exempt from national and local taxes on their importation as well as tax credit for import substitution. Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) industries also enjoy income tax holidays.

Perez said that despite these incentives, the uptake for locating or establishing export processing zone for aquaculture and fisheries appeared to be limited.

While tuna, seaweeds, and shrimps remained as the country’s top export commodity – accounting for 63 percent (153,667 metric tons (MT)) of the total export volume (226,821 MT) and 58 percent (US$ 531,333 million) of the total export value of US$ 909 million – no tuna or shrimp related industry is PEZA-registered.

Of the 22 agro-industrial zones in the country now, only Shemberg Biotech Corporation and Alsons Aquaculture Corporation are PEZA-Registered Enterprises. Shemberg is into seaweeds processing, while Alsons is involved in the production of feeds, fish, shrimps, and other aquaculture farm species for export.

In 2019, PEZA and the Department of Agriculture (DA) signed a memorandum of agreement that is intended to industrialize agribusiness. At the time, PEZA Director-General Charito B. Plaza said that the agreement will promote domestic production, manufacturing, and exports.

“Both DA and PEZA recognize the need for cooperative effort in promoting and supporting investments to agricultural-oriented activities through the granting of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives and development of agro-industrial, aquamarine, and agro-forestry special ecozones,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar also said at the time.

For its part, Tugon Kabuhayan said the Philippines can become a dominant exporter while still caring for and providing gainful economic growth to local communities.

Tugon Kabuhayan emphasized local producers are more than capable of addressing the country’s need for accessible and affordable food. It’s just that local producers need facilities and systems that support production and post-harvest facilities.

“With government support and provision of fiscal incentives, the fisheries and aquaculture industry can generate more jobs. We are ready to venture into the promotion of consumption of processed commodities both domestically and internationally,” Tugon Kabuhayan said.

“This will definitely contribute to more job creation. In our estimate, even if only half of the urban population patronizes deboned milkfish (bangus), this will create additional 7,000 jobs in a year. What more if we sell deboned bangus and other value-added aquaculture products to other countries?” the group further said.

Tugon Kabuhayan also explained that while there are aquaculture companies willing to invest in the processing and export of commodities, there is a need for enhanced technical support from different agencies, especially that some documentary requirements for PEZA registration include a favorable endorsement from the DA, environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from DENR, and endorsement from LGUs among others.