The Philippine government has called for Canberra to open its market to Philippine bananas, which Australia has barred for the last 20 years, the Department of Finance (DoF) said over the weekend.
In a statement, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd raised the longstanding concern in his meeting with Australia Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was on an official visit in Manila last March 16 to 17.
“As former Minister of Agriculture, I will raise with you the issue of the banana imports. We have been working at that for 20 years, probably. And we have not been able to ship to you a single box of bananas,” Dominguez was quoted as saying during his meeting with Bishop.
Local banana growers have been trying to comply with the overly stringent export requirements of Australia, according to the DoF.
In response, Bishop reiterated Australia’s usual response: for the Philippines to meet the required risk management measures and offered Australia’s assistance.
“The challenge, I guess with you and for us, is for Philippine produce to be able to meet those conditions in order for exports to occur,” Bishop was quoted as saying.
“We can continue to talk about … more assistance that we can provide to meet those requirements,” she added.
Biosecurity Australia, the inspection and quarantine assessment arm of Australia’s Department of Agriculture, has long been imposing stringent sanitary and phytosanitary requirements on Philippine bananas—barred from the Australian market since 1995, according to the DoF.
These requirements include the need for Philippine bananas to have eight leaves prior to harvest and the use of non-perforated bags for packing, it added.
The Australian Banana Growers Council has been opposing banana imports from the Philippines.
Dominguez told Bishop that Philippine bananas, one of the country’s top food exports, are accepted and exported in many other countries. “Japan accepts our bananas, China accepts our bananas, even the Middle East accepts our bananas,” he said.
The DoF said the Philippines asked the World Trade Organization in July 2003 to create a dispute panel to settle its complaint with Australia regarding banana exports.
It said government officials have argued that Australia’s measures are inconsistent with provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) barring countries that are signatories to the pact from imposing non-tariff trade barriers.
The balance of trade between the two countries heavily favors Australia, with Philippine imports from Australia reaching $892 million in 2016, while exports amounted to only $386 million.