BusinessWorld Online: Banana exports to US seen by next year

BY NEIL JEROME C. MORALES, Reporter

Banana exports to US seen by next year

LOCAL [Philippine RP] BANANA producers will likely be able to export fresh bananas to the United States starting next year, an Agriculture official said yesterday.

"I am optimistic that the process in exporting [bananas] would be fast because the banana industry is organized," Joel S. Rudinas, director of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), told reporters.

"Right now we are in the comment period [proposing procedures to the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA]…until maybe end of August or September," he said, adding that the US banana market is worth over $100 million.

Manila asked Washington in December 2005 to allow fresh banana exports to the US mainland, and followed this request with another in September 2007 to export the same commodity to Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands.

The USDA gave Manila preliminary approval last July to export fresh bananas to the US mainland, with final approval pending proof by the Philippine government that it has sufficiently quarantined banana pests.

The local banana industry group welcomed this development, adding that it is studying processes to extend banana shelf life to about 15-20 days from the current 12 days.

"We found out that we can cut bananas from trees earlier and vacuum-pack them," Anthony B. Sasin, spokesperson of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), said yesterday in a phone interview.

Mr. Sasin said the PBGEA is confident that prices of Philippine bananas will be "very competitive" against those from South American competitors like Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama, but did not cite figures.

Among others, Mr. Sasin said, Philippine banana yield is about a third higher than South American farms at 3,500-4,500 13-kilogram boxes per hectare.

Moreover, Mr. Sasin said, the local banana industry will reconfigure harvesting and packaging protocols until next year to prepare for the new market.

The Philippines now exports fresh bananas to China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Middle East countries.

In the first quarter, Philippine exports of fresh banana rose to 537,095 metric tons worth $101.267 million from 503,198 MT worth $93.414 million during the same period last year, data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) show.

The country accounts for almost a fifth of world banana exports.

"We already have commitment in several markets [sic]. This means we have to plant additional trees," Mr. Sasin said, adding that the government can facilitate the expansion of banana plantations by facilitating loans to banana farmers.

To date, there are about 60,000 hectares of banana plantations in the country, which are projected to expand 10%-12% yearly to meet high demand abroad, data from the PBGEA show.

Banana output, which accounts for 4.7% of total farm production, rose by 16.06% to 8.686 million MT in the first half given more areas planted with the crop, BAS data show.

BusinessWorld Online: Banana exports to US seen by next year

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