PH banana growers want immediate cut in SoKor tariffs

MANILA — Local banana growers urged the government to fast track negotiations with South Korea to immediately lower the tariff on Philippine banana exports, noting that they cannot wait for the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

In a statement Thursday, the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) said that waiting for the RCEP agreement will be “very tedious” for the industry and there is no assurance when it is going to happen.

“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?” PBGEA Executive Director Stephen Antig said.

The group added that it fears Philippine banana exporters will lose the Korean market long before the regional agreement is completed.

PBGEA mentioned that based on its recent meeting with Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Han Dong-man, Seoul eyes RCEP as its top avenue for cutting import duties of incoming Philippine goods.

Currently, Philippine banana exports enter South Korea at 30-percent tariff.

“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.

“[W]e 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,” he added.

PBGEA fears losing the competitiveness of its banana exports to South Korea in the next years as other countries are set to enjoy zero-tariff for their banana exports to the East Asian nation.

With South Korea’s trade deals with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, and Vietnam, its government will lift duties on banana imports from these countries by 2021.

Seoul already removed tariff for its banana imports from Peru.

Despite these challenges, the Philippines remains to be the top source of banana imports of South Korea, holding more than 85 percent of market share, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

Early this month, Lopez said he met with his Korean counterpart and reiterated the Philippines’ request to reduce the tariff rate for banana products entering South Korea.

“The industry will give its full cooperation with Philippine trade representatives to draft a mutually beneficial proposal that will be submitted to Seoul,” PBGEA noted.

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