Banana exporters urged the government to pursue bilateral talks with South Korea over the unresolved issue of high import tariff imposed on Philippine Cavendish.
The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association said the planned Preferential Trading Agreement with Seoul should include the long-standing issue on banana import tariff.
“We understand the government is in current negotiations with Turkey and Chile for respective bilateral trade issues. Although we are not intentionally undermining the importance of such negotiations with our other trade partners, we are still urging Malacañang to immediately and seriously look at the plight of the country’s second-largest agricultural export being charged with atrociously high import tariffs in South Korea,” said PBGEA executive director Stephen Antig.
The Trade Department raised the possibility of forging a bilateral PTA with South Korea to improve market access for the country’s banana exports.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez raised anew the Philippines’ request for lower tariffs and greater market access for bananas during his meeting with Korean Trade Minister Kim Chun during the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership meetings in Singapore in August.
“We have an open discussion and we are considering options on a better process moving forward, either bilateral thru a Preferential Trade Agreement or under the Asean-Korea Free Trade Agreement,” said Lopez.
Antig said the industry was ready to give its full cooperation with Philippine trade representatives to draft a mutually beneficial proposal that would be submitted to Seoul.
The banana exporters said waiting for the conclusion of the highly ambitious RCEP agreement to settle the tariff concern would be very tedious for the industry.
“The route of RCEP will be far too long and circuitous. Multilateral discussions on this trade pact started in 2012 and is still going on. Who knows when it will be done,” Antig said.
The banana group said the industry could lose the Korean market long before RCEP could be concluded.
“Philippine banana exporters are already battling it out in South Korea with competitors granted concessionary import tariff rates. We cannot afford to wait while this happens. This issue must be immediately taken up on a bilateral basis and specific to bananas,” Antig said.
Peruvian bananas have been enjoying 0-percent tariff since 2015 while other banana-exporting countries like Colombia are bound to see the drop in tariff to 0 percent by 2020.
“A bilateral agreement between Manila and Seoul is the only way for the country’s banana exports to have a fighting chance against competition in South Korea,” said Antig.