The President's banana diplomacy to China

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - October 18, 2016 - 12:00am

President Rodrigo R.Duterte's official visit to China, from October 18 to 21, upon the invitation of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, will tackle multiple trade, economic, and political issues, one of the most important subject of which is the improvement of the current volumes and quality standards of bananas exported by hundreds of exporters from the island of Mindanao, covering six regions, and more than ten provinces, and valued at billions worth of sales in US dollars. This trade benefits a million workers, earning billions of wages and benefits annually.

The past administration of President Aquino, by lack of concern for the Mindanaoan traders and workers and by incompetence, has allowed the deterioration and shrinking of the Philippines' trade to China.When PNoy took over the Philippine leadership from PGMA, there were no less than 441,951 hectares of Mindanao land that were planted with bananas (all the leading varieties including cavendish, lakatan, and saba), providing direct jobs to no less than 500,000 workers who were paid 44 billion in wages and benefits, and paying taxes of 6.5 billion each year. Under PNoy, the Philippine embassy in Beijing received a series of official notices from the Chinese government raising many issues on the quality of our bananas.

However, the PNoy government failed to address the very serious issue raised on May 4, 2012 when Chinese food authorities detected some pests in our bananas, particularly mealybugs. There was an embargo of no less than 490 container vans of bananas from Mindanao. Then after the July 12, 2016 ruling of the International Arbitration Tribunal, China has decided to reduce substantially its importation of our bananas, thereby displacing no less than 200,000 workers. China shifted to Ecuador which experienced and unprecedented 800 percent increase in volumes of their export despite the distance between China and theSouth American country.

When President Duterte started to warm up to China, the restrictions against our bananas had been withdrawn. One week before the president's state visit, the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines' Zhao Jianhuan has announced that the Peoples' Republic of China has unilaterally lifted restrictions on the bananas and pineapples from the Philippines. Not only that, China has decided to increase the volumes of their agricultural imports from Mindanao. The suspension of many companies had been lifted, including that of TADECO, owned by the Floirendos;Stanfilco, a division of DOLE Philippines; and LAPANDAY, controlled by the Lorenzo family.

This is a clear illustration of how good politics could push more support for the economy. By choosing to be closer to China, rather than the USA, President Duterte has safeguarded the security of business viability and livelihood for the Mindanao growers, traders, and workers. We hasten to interject a caveat, however. We have to remind the President that the USA is the Philippines' biggest foreign investor. If and when America decides to call President's challenge ''to go to hell,'' the implications to our economy may be beyond pecuniary estimation. Our thesis is simple: we can very well befriend China, without cutting our ties with the US. That to us is the best politics, and that is what matters most.


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