Manila: The Philippines said it is moving on in its dispute with China over a controversial banana shipment which had threatened to worsen the diplomatic row between the two countries.
Presidential palace spokesperson Abigail Valte said shipments of bananas from the Philippines to China had resumed following an agreement concerning the conduct of joint inspections.
Prior to this, China had barred shipments amid allegations that the popular fruit was infested with scale insects (scale insects or Aonidiella comperei are plant parasites).
Chinese authorities were concerned that if the contaminated fruits entered the country, the insects could possibly infest locally grown fauna.
The Philippines is a major banana exporter. Plantation owners, especially in Mindanao where most of the crop is grown, raised an alarm over the possibility that China would not accept the bananas. They say thousands of planters would be affected while families risk losing their livelihood.
But Valte said the palace believes that the worse is over.
“So far we’re making progress concerning this. China is now accepting the fruit exports,” she said in an interview aired by government run dzRB radio station.
Valte added that as of Saturday, 190 containers of Philippine bananas had been allowed entry into China.
In the same breath, the palace official said that the earlier rejection of the fruit shipments by China was not connected in anyway with the two-month old impasse over the Scarborough Shoal.
Scarborough Shoal is an island located in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). Both China and the Philippines claim jurisdiction over the area as part of their respective territory.
Valte said that the matter concerning China’s rejection of the banana shipments is not political, but a matter concerning quarantine issues.
“It has always been a phytosanitary issue,” she said.
Earlier, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala reiterated that China has not imposed a ban on Philippine bananas.
“Actually, our products were never banned. Our Chinese counterparts are merely conducting a more thorough and extended inspection of our fruit exports,” the Deparment of Agriculture chief said.
Early this month, bananas from the Philippines were held up longer than usual at Chinese ports as quarantine personnel implemented a 100 per cent inspection. The stringent measures were enforced following the discovery of scale insect.
This prompted Alcala to send a team to China and present the Philippine plant quarantine protocol.
“We wanted to assure them that our bananas are of highest standards and quality,” Alcala said.
“This episode should serve as a wake-up call for all us,” he said, “as we may have been lenient in complying with international quarantine protocols.
“From here on, we will impose a zero-tolerance policy with respect to insect and other contaminants. We have to keep a closer watch at our procedures and assure that they are strictly followed,” he said.