Phl to procure Chinese tilapia, as Beijing restricts food imports
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - October 21, 2020 - 12:00am

A powerful lobby is wangling a government permit to import tilapia from China at a time of local supply glut. Billion-peso profits are to be raked in at the expense of Filipino fish raisers.

The cabal has connections in the bureaucracy, but uncaring of the Duterte administration’s image if fisheries collapse. State technicians are being instructed to fudge statistics to justify the imports, sources reveal.

Certificates of Necessity are being contrived for signing by bribed officials. Alibis, like lack of cold storage and pond fish kills, will be presented from certain regions.

Tilapia is in oversupply nationwide. Pandemic lockdowns curtail distribution and retail mobility. Demand is down 70 percent from homes and shuttered school and office canteens. Pampanga alone has a 30,000-ton unmoving inventory; more in adjoining Central Luzon provinces Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Bataan and Zambales. Taal Lake in Batangas, which supplies 85 percent of Metro Manila, has a bigger overstock. Tilapia is raised in pens and ponds in lakes and riversides in all islands, as large as Palawan or Panay to as small as Tawi-Tawi.

Domestic surplus notwithstanding, the lobby is scheming to flood the market with cheap Chinese tilapia. If poultry importers could extract authorizations during pandemic surfeit, so will they. Agriculture agency sources request anonymity for now, but are preparing group action if pressed with illegal orders.

Megabucks await the cabal financiers and protectors:

Chinese will supply tilapia at less than Alibaba’s quoted $700 per ton. At P50:$1, landed cost would be P35,000 per ton or P35 per kilo. The peso is rallying at P48.50 to a dollar; the stronger the peso, the better for the financiers.

Initial import will be 30,000 tons, same as the recent license for galunggong (round scad) from China. That would take 1,500 cargo containers. Each would contain 20 tons or 20,000 kilos – P700,000 worth of tilapia.

Enter the protectors, taking for every container P400,000 for themselves and “for the boys.” That adds P20 more to the tilapia cost, making it P55 per kilo.

Financiers’ markup is usually double the bribe. In this case, another P40. Final wholesale price: P95 per kilo. Retail will at first be lower than, then eventually match, the P120 prevailing price since August.

At P400,000 per container, the protectors will rake in P600 million. The financiers will make double: P1.2 billion. Their gains multiply with every additional import tonnage permit.

They did it before. Allowed to import 17,000 tons of tilapia in 2018, they actually brought in first 45,000, then exceeded 100,000 tons.

All that, to the detriment of Filipino growers. As tilapia can be grown even in backyards, there is no actual count of raisers nationwide. Taal Lake has 12,000, two for each of the 6,000 cages, 100-square-meter size. Pampanga has 2,000 pond workers. Other major lakes with tilapia pens are Laguna de Bay, Lanao, Mainit, Naujan, Buluan, Bato, Pagusi, Labas and Lumao.

Beijing recently restricted frozen food imports. China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention claims to have found active coronavirus in inner and outer packaging and on interior and exterior walls of refrigerated containers. Experts see low risk of infection. Still, seafood, chicken and mutton from Indonesia, Brazil, US and New Zealand were banned.

China’s tilapia industry is in a slump as all its major Western markets reel from pandemic. America, its biggest buyer, has imposed higher tariffs, further depressing Chinese tilapia sales.

Chinese do not consume their own tilapia, knowing they come from southern areas heavily polluted by factories. Chinese tilapia are spiked with antibiotics – a practice forbidden in the Philippines.

Chinese growers are willing to sell low for two reasons. One, their government pays them export credits, virtually extra profits. Two, they get an opportunity to salt dollars into overseas depositories.

Not only Filipino growers will be swamped when the cabal gets its way. Even Filipino bangus and poultry raisers will take a beating if consumers switch to cheap but dirty Chinese tilapia.

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TALKBACK. Reader Oscar Salazar reacts to “Hunger, Anxiety, Confusion over New SSS Pension Rule” (Gotcha, 19 Oct. 2020):

“Many thanks for bringing this up. SSS’s sudden change of pension releases has caused untold inconvenience to us retirees. It deprived us of our means to buy critical maintenance medicines and, for some, food. Not a few had to borrow cash or pawn belongings to tide them over during the delay.

“The timing and manner of SSS’s adjustment is suspicious. Why include all the pensioners when the intention is only to replace check disbursements, as its guidelines state. Such pensions by check are a small percentage of releases than direct bank transfers. The total amount of withheld pensions for one month must be substantial. Money begets money. I cannot help but think there is a hidden agenda in giving additional business to designated banks and payment platforms.”

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

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