Manila blasts Canberra’s draft position on banana imports

Business Mirror

Posted at Feb 13 2009 02:29 AM | Updated as of Feb 13 2009 10:29 AM

Manila is disappointment over a draft import risk analysis (IRA) released by Canberra, saying that the proposed risk management measures are “very stringent, expensive and trade restrictive.”

The Bureau of Plant Industry is concerned that the move may be a tactic by the Australian government to continually ban Philippine banana imports.

Such a move has “maintained a thorn” in the otherwise harmonious trade relations between Manila and Canberra, the bureau said.

In expressing its disappointment, director Joel Rudinas of the plant industry bureau noted the advice issued by Biosecurity Australia has limited the appeals stakeholders could file to only two grounds instead of allowing stakeholders the opportunity for stakeholders to comment on aspect of the IRA report that are questionable.

“The measures undertaken by Australia appear to be strategies to delay the commencement of our banana export to that country,” Rudinas said in a statement.

“Moreover, the measures they have proposed are very stringent, with no regard to the prevailing growing conditions in the Philippines and the negative consequence to the export fruit quality,” Rudinas added.

Philippine bananas are banned in Australia, although the fruit openly sold in markets in Japan, South Korea, China, New Zealand and Middle East—countries that also have strict standards for the importation of agricultural products in place.

The final IRA report issued by Biosecurity Australia recommends that bananas from the Philippines could enter Australia only if Manila meets strict risk management measures for seven groups of quarantine concern.

Biosecurity Australia is an agency of the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry that provides quarantine assessments and policy advice to protect the Australian agriculture sector.

The recommended quarantine measures contained in the IRA report include allowing exports only from areas that demonstrate low pest prevalence; stringent measures that involve Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service inspectors being present in the field and packing houses in the Philippines; and detailed data and documentation to be provided by the Philippines for consideration by Australia prior to any exports to verify and validate quarantine measures underpinned by laboratory and field experiments and commercial trials.

Manila has been seeking access to the Australian market for Philippine bananas since 1995. But Australia has continuously postponed the IRA for the Philippine fruit on the “flimsiest of reasons,” prompting Manila to file a dispute case against Canberra before the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Body in October 2002.

A major factor that hinders local banana producers to access the Australian market is the strong lobby of Australian banana growers against allowing the entry of Philippine bananas into Australian shores.

The Australian market for bananas is estimated at $50 million a year, with output from down under estimated at 270,000 tons from 14,000 hectares of plantations. In comparison, Philippine banana output is around 7.5 million metric tons from 32,000 hectares of plantations in Mindanao.