Manuel T. Cayon
December 5, 2010
DAVAO CITY—Malacañang would be asked soon to appoint an ambassador to Iran and to form a high-level government mission to that country “to make representation on issues that may arise” similar to the restrictions on importation of food that affected Philippine bananas.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan told a news briefing at the Grand Mercure Hotel here on Thursday that the ambassador would be expected to make representations for the country on issues “similar to this one [the Iranian move to restrict food importation].”
Corporate heads of banana growers and exporters here narrated anew to Pangilinan and Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, heads of the committees on agriculture and food, and on trade and commerce, that shipment to Iran “drastically slowed down by the non-issuance of import permits by Iranian authorities to their fruit importers.”
“Shipment was abruptly stopped the first week of October this year when Iranian authorities imposed a ban on 48 imported fruits,” said a position paper of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) submitted to the Senate public hearing here.
Although the ban excluded the Philippine bananas, pineapples and papayas, PBGEA president Stephen Antig said that the inquiry made by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala was “not clear on what really happened.”
“They [Philippine officials] said that it was not a ban, that it was only a delay in the issuance of the import permit, but was it really that way?” he told the BusinessMirror.
Pangilinan said that a Philippine high-level government mission should be sent to Iran to clarify the issues.
“We would recommend to the President to form that mission to Iran,” Pangilinan told a news briefing. “We would also recommend to the President to appoint an ambassador to Iran so that he can make representation to that country in issues that may arise, such as this.”
He said that “these are the two immediate actions that should be done after hearing the accounts of people in this public hearing.”
Guingona said he would also urge the President to send a trade attaché to Iran “because this is the person that handles the the agriculture and trade issues.”
“Although the issues about banana affects Mindanao, we want to bring it to the immediate attention and consciousness of Manila because, while they were already doing some action on these, they are not enough,” he said.
Pangilinan said the panel of presenters from among the banana growers have also suggested to government to provide low-interest loans.
“We would look into that and make a necessary recommendation [by accessing] the ACEF [agricultural competitive enhancement fund],” he said.
It was former North Cotabato Emmanuel Pinol, who proposed that the government extend financial assistance to the banana growers in certain crisis situations and mentioned the ACEF as “one good source of that low interest fund.”
The ACEF was a fund taken from a certain percentage of duties or taxes levied on imports. The fund, created in the years following the commitment of the Philippines to the free-trade agreements in the Asean, was supposed to help the agriculture sector prepare for subsidy-free regime and become competitive.
In its position paper, the PBGEA said that Iran imports half of the 63 million boxes of bananas shipped yearly to the Middle East. It pointed out that the sudden halt to the importation of the Cavendish banana grown mainly in the eastern part of Mindanao “reriveted stakeholders’ attention to the vulnerability of the industry to socio-political and financial instabilities that can beset importing countries.”
It added that the “Iranian problem” also demonstrated the “risks of huge losses posed to Philippine exporters by the sudden deprivation of the predestined market for their shipments.”
“Serious shortfalls in earnings outright adversely affect the farm workers and the small farmers mostly agrarian reform beneficiaries,” the paper said. The PBGEA estimated that there were “roughly 36,000 farm workers in 9,000 hectares of banana farms directly affected or an estimated 216,000 residents of Mindanao who are directly dependent on earnings from exports to Iran.”
Clearly, it emphasized, “there is a need to facilitate the normalization of Philippine exports to Iran and identify alternative markets to cushion the negative impacts of a dysfunction of the industry’s export market now and in the future.”
Earlier in October, the Regional Development Council here crafted a six-point “package of options” for government to undertake to bail out the industry. These were: Open new markets, including the US and Australia; adopt a barter trade protocol, such as banana for Iran’s oil and fertilizers; use banana for US food aid program; explore local alternative markets for Cavendish and the local lakatan varieties; extend emergency assistance to farm workers; and exempt banana growers and exporters from recent wage hike.
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