MANILA, Philippines - China has impounded Philippine fruit exports alleged to carry pests, squeezing a key industry amid a tense stand-off between the two countries over disputed territory, a Philippine official said Saturday.
Manila newspapers reported tonnes of Philippine bananas were rotting at Chinese ports, while the Philippines' Bureau of Plant Industry director Clarito Barron confirmed fruit shipments faced stricter inspection there.
"This has a huge effect on the industry," Barron said, describing China as an important market having imported 300,000 tonnes of Philippine bananas worth $60 million last year.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper quoted Stephen Antig, president of an association of 18 banana growers, saying they had sustained losses of one billion pesos (about $236,000) because bananas spoiled after three days.
Chinese quarantine officials informed the Philippines that all its banana exports would have to face inspection before they clear Chinese ports after scale insects were allegedly found in one March shipment, Barron said.
The stricter quarantine measures were later extended to Philippine pineapples and papayas after Chinese authorities claimed they also found pests in a May 2 shipment, he said in an interview aired on DZBB radio in Manila.
Barron said the Philippines disputes the Chinese findings, stressing that the bugs allegedly found on the March shipment attacked coconuts, not bananas.
With total shipments worth $470.96 million last year, bananas are the Philippines's second-largest agricultural commodity export after coconuts, according to government data.
China is the Philippines' second-largest banana market after Japan.
The banana issue came up a month before Chinese maritime surveillance vessels prevented the Philippine navy from arresting Chinese fishermen on a disputed South China Sea shoal in April, sparking a tense maritime stand-off.
"In my opinion this (banana quarantine) has nothing to do with that issue," Barron said.
The Philippine government has proposed measures to resolve the trade impasse, including sending inspectors to accompany the fruit shipments, but China has yet to reply, he added.
Barron and Antig could not be reached for comment Saturday.