Photo: DTI Secretary Ranon Lopez

It looks like the Philippines biggest agricultural export may get lower tarrifs in some Asian countries.

The Philippines’ trade department met with its counterpart in South Korea to further reduce tariff rate for its banana exports entering the East Asian country.

In a text message to reporters over the weekend, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez said he had a recent meeting with his South Korean counterpart, where the lowering of tariffs on Philippine banana exports was discussed at the 50th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting and Related Meetings in Singapore last week.

“[We] renewed [our] request to lower tariff on our banana exports for greater market access in South Korea,” Lopez said.

The Philippines wants to remain as the top source of bananas for South Korea.

“We are still the largest supplier of banana to South Korea, over 85 percent [market share], but other countries [are] trying to increase [their] supply,” the DTI chief noted.

The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), the main industry group of banana exporters fears losing the competitiveness of Philippine banana exports to South Korea in the next years since unlike the Philippines, other countries in Latin America will be enjoying zero-tariff for their banana exports to the East Asian nation.

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

On the other hand, South Korea’s trade agreement with other countries such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, and Vietnam will be eliminating duties on their banana exports to the Asian market starting 2021.

South Korea already removed tariff for its banana imports from Peru.

“Cheap banana imports from Central America have started to eat into the share of Philippine bananas in the Korean market and these could totally push us out of the picture by 2022, unless we get the same zero-tariff treatment as they do,” PBGEA executive director Stephen Antig said in an earlier statement.

According to PBGEA, the country exports to South Korea some 30 million boxes of bananas or equivalent to 390,000 tons produced from 8,000 hectares of banana farms. “[We] open the discussion and we are considering options on a better process moving forward, either bilateral through a preferential trade agreement or under ASEAN-Korea [Free Trade Agreement],” Lopez said.

“We will push this forward and give a paper in next two weeks,” he added. (with reports from PNA)