Philippines vs China: going bananas

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The month-long impasse between Chinese and Philippine ships in a disputed area in the South China Sea has many unforeseen consequences. Now, the standoff over rich fishing grounds could potentially deprive wealthy Chinese consumers of the tasty but pricey Philippine bananas that used to be exported mainly to Japan.

China’s quarantine authorities have blocked 43 batches of Philippine bananas after finding some pests in the tropical fruits shipped in April. The Philippines department of agriculture is verifying the findings, and is exchanging test results with China’s Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

So far, Manila is treating the incident as a sanitary matter but Filipino banana growers fear that the move to reject the shipments may have something to do with the prolonged diplomatic standoff which began on April 10 when a Philippine navy ship tried to detain eight Chinese fishing boats in Scarborough Shoal which is claimed by both China and the Philippines.

Stephen Antig, president of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, whose members had been exporting bananas to China for a decade, said the blocking of banana shipments on health grounds was “unusual,” according to local newspaper reports.

“We recently held a meeting and shared the same apprehension that we may lose the valuable market in China as a result of the dispute over the shoal,” said Antig, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper.

The maritime standoff in Scarborough Shoal, located about 120 nautical miles west of the main Philippine island of Luzon, has led to an increasingly bitter exchange of words between officials and citizens in the two countries. On Friday, about 300 Filipinos held a rally in front of a building housing the Chinese consulate in the country’s central business district to protest Chinese “bullying” in the disputed waters. Some Chinese travel agencies have suspended trips to the Philippines, potentially hurting the country’s tourism sector.

Rising prosperity in China have boosted demand for premium Philippine bananas that a few years ago were exported mainly to Japan other rich Asian countries such as South Korea and Singapore. Philippine banana exports to China have quadrupled to 360m kilograms between 2009 and 2011, making China the second biggest market for Philippine bananas after Japan.

Who would have thought an impasse over uninhabitable rock outcroppings in the South China Sea could potentially squeeze the supply of bananas for China’s newly wealthy consumers?

Related reading:
Philippines in fresh China ship protest
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Philippines and China in naval stand-off
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