President Duterte is in Japan on a two-day working visit starting today. He’s expected to meet up with newfound buddy Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who’d come all the way to Davao last January, joined China in extending P1 trillion in official development assistance (ODA), sampled the durian, and walked straight into the President’s bedroom as an added gesture of goodwill.
There’s to be a lot more on the table this time around, especially Tokyo’s abiding support to the Duterte Administration. As arguably the country’s top donor, accounting for at least 33.1 percent of global contributions in 2008, Japan is seen as a strong and consistent partner in Filipino nation-building.
There’s also the tensions in the Korean Peninsula to mull over, “matters of mutual interest to both countries,” according to a communiqué from the foreign affairs department.
But what’s probably highest on the agenda is the matter of Philippine bananas.
In his Facebook post, agriculture secretary Manny Piñol lamented that “Japan imposes an 8.4% tariff for Philippine bananas during off-season of Japanese fruits and a very high 18.4% during the fruiting season.” He added that “Ecuador, a major banana producing country, has been given Zero Tariff for its bananas exported to Japan allowing it to eat into the market share of the Philippines.”
That’s appalling to say the least, and Piñol knew whereof he spoke. Last year, the country exported just over 56 million boxes of bananas to Japan, a sharp drop from its 85.7 million boxes in 2009. In contrast, while Latin American countries shipped only 6.2 million boxes to Japan in 2009, it increased this volume by more than 100 percent to 13.4 million boxes last year.
For an industry fraught with problems from widespread pestilence to insurgency attacks, it deserves a level-playing field in order to compete fairly and survive.
Reduced or no tariffs—that is the bottom line. And the President knows this only too well, albeit cognisant of foreign governments’ predilection for diplomatese.
Let’s hope he comes home with more than that.