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Finally, Americans to get taste of Philippine bananas

Cavendish bananas from Mindanao. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

After years of discussions, fresh Philippine bananas are poised to enter the United States for the first time.

Agriculture officials on Monday confirmed that multinational giant Dole Philippines would “soon” be exporting bananas from Mindanao to the US mainland, now that phytosanitary tests on the fruits had been completed by US inspectors.

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“They are now discussing freight costs,” said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, noting that the US is farther than the Philippines’ traditional markets for bananas and would thus incur higher freight costs. “We have to make sure that our freight is competitive,” he added.

Banana embargo

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The news comes as a relief to the Aquino administration, which recently suffered a banana embargo in China amid the Panatag Shoal conflict.  China is the country’s second biggest market for bananas next to Japan, with banana exports to China reaching 358,000 metric tons worth P4.75 billion in 2011.

Early this year, Chinese quarantine officials banned the entry of Philippine bananas, claiming pest contamination.  Out of the 1,500 container vans of bananas sent to Beijing, Chinese quarantine officials only allowed in 290 vans.  This prompted President Aquino to direct the Department of Agriculture to find new markets for the Philippine fruit.

One container a week

A Dole official said the company would start with one container of bananas per week.  The official, who spoke anonymously because of lack of authority to speak on the matter, said the Bureau of Plant Industry had also completed the inspection and accreditation of its farms in Mindanao.

The official said that Dole, which has its farms scattered in Mindanao but also buys fruits from independent contract growers, had also started to export Philippine bananas to Mongolia.  It currently exports fresh Philippine fruits like bananas and pineapples to Asian countries like Japan and South Korea.

Agriculture Undersecretary Antonio Fleta said future volumes would depend on orders from the US.

Phytosanitary issues

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The Philippines first asked the US in December 2005 to allow fresh bananas to enter the mainland, but negotiations were stalled due to quarantine and phytosanitary issues. With the resolution of these issues, Alcala said he was confident Philippine bananas would be a hit in the US. “Our bananas are better-tasting and more competitive,” he said.

Bananas are the country’s second-top dollar earner next to coconuts. The banana export industry uses some 80,000 hectares of land spread out in 13 provinces in Mindanao.

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TAGS: Agriculture, Dole Philippines, export, Philippine Bananas, Philippines, United States
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