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Go for Middle East market, PH tuna processors urged

GENERAL SANTOS CITY - A US$2-billion food market in the Middle East is waiting for Philippine producers of fresh and processed tuna, according to Gil Herico, the country’s agriculture attaché to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Speaking to some 500 delegates at the 16th National Tuna Congress here, Herico said UAE alone imports $100 million worth of fish and other marine products.

He added that, next year, tuna will be among the top seafood products in demand in the Middle East.

According to him, Philippine tuna products have barely taken advantage of the lucrative fish market of the 6-member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The GCC is composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman, and Qatar.

In addition, Herico said, there are over 2 million overseas Filipino workers in these countries who are likely to patronize canned Philippine tuna. 

“There are 850,000 Filipinos in Dubai alone,” he said. Dubai is the largest open city of UAE.

The Filipino diplomat said UAE alone has a per capita fish consumption of 50 kilograms every year.

Herico specifically cited the fresh chilled yellowfin tuna from General Santos as among the most sought after fish products in the upscale market.

He narrated that most of the hotel managers and chefs of 5- and 6-star hotels in Dubai have managers that previously worked in Cebu and Manila. These managers and chefs introduced Philippine tuna into their menus. Demand, he said, has since increased.  

More cargo space

The attaché said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala has talked to Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific executives to accommodate 12 tons of extra cargo space for fresh chilled tuna in their direct flights to Dubai and other GCC countries.  

He said the agriculture secretary has also asked the Philippines flag carriers to lower their cargo rates. Present cargo rates, he said, range from $3.20 to $3.50 per kilo.

At least 5 tons of fresh chilled yellowfin are flown out of General Santos City every day.

Fresh chilled tuna exporters used to have a 10-ton cargo allocation in Philippine Airlines flights from General Santos.

These sashimi-grade tunas end up in the US and Japan markets.

Herico also urged Philippine canned tuna producers to band together and come up with a single brand tuna product in order to better penetrate the Middle East market.

Thailand, he said, is dominating the canned tuna market in the Middle East.

The Middle East he said, imports 100 container vans of canned and processed tuna every month.

Protest vs Citra Mina

On Friday, September 5, striking Citra Mina workers trooped to the venue of the 16th Tuna Congress to make known their plight and press erring company to address alleged violation of workers' rights.

The workers did a die-in outside the hall where the congress is being held. The carried a banner that said “Justice for Citra Mina,” and chanted “because of Citra Mina, our families are hungry.”

“We find it ironic for Joaquin T. Lu to chair this year’s Tuna Congress whose theme is ‘Shared Resources, Shared Responsibility’ when his company is not even acting responsibly towards us – its workers,” Jumary Arevalo, president of the Samang United Workers of Citra Mina Group of Companies Union, said in a statement.

The workers said Citra Mina sacked 238 workers in 2013 when they formed a union.

“The company’s offer to reinstate 12 of us is nothing but a cheap PR campaign. The only acceptable solution is for the company to recognize our union and to reinstate with full back wages all of us who are still interested to work,” Arevalo added

The workers alleged that the company "has been very artful in shifting its operations from one company to another in order to avoid formation of workers’ unions." – Rappler.com