Dominguez urges Australia to open market to PHL bananas

MANILA-- Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has called on Australia to open its market to Philippine bananas, which has remained barred in that country for over 20 years now despite the sustained efforts by local banana growers to comply with its overly stringent export requirements.

Dominguez, who was once agriculture secretary, raised the Philippines' longstanding concern in his meeting with Australia Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was in Manila last March 16-17 on an official visit.

As former Minister of Agriculture, I will raise with you the issue of the banana imports. We have been working at that for 20 years, probably. And we have not been able to ship to you a single box of bananas, Dominguez said in his meeting with Bishop.

Bishop replied by reiterating Australia's standard response on the need for the Philippines to meet that country's required risk management measures and offered Australia's assistance in this area.

The challenge, I guess with you and for us is for Philippine produce to be able to meet those conditions in order for exports to occur, Bishop said. We can continue to talk about more assistance that we can provide to meet those requirements.

Biosecurity Australia, the inspection and quarantine assessment arm of Australia's Department of Agriculture, has long been imposing stringent phytosanitary and sanitary requirements on Philippine bananas, which has been barred from the Australian market since 1995.

These requirements include, among others, the need for Philippine banana exports to have eight leaves prior to harvest and the use of non-perforated bags for packing.

The Australian Banana Growers Council has also long been opposing banana imports from the Philippines.

Dominguez pointed out to Bishop that Philippine bananas, one of our country's top food exports, are accepted and exported in many other countries.

Japan accepts our bananas, China accepts our bananas, even the Middle East accepts our bananas, Dominguez said.

The Philippines asked the World Trade Organization way back in July 2003 to create a dispute panel to settle its complaint with Australia regarding banana exports.

Our officials have argued that Australia's measures are inconsistent with provisions of the General Agreements on Tariff and Trade (GATT) barring countries that are signatories to the pact from imposing non-tariff trade barriers.

The balance of trade between the two countries heavily favors Australia, with Philippine imports from Australia reaching US$892 million in 2016, while exports amounted to only US$386 million in the same period.

Source: Philippines Information Agency