Cebu

Benguet farmers, dealers ask government to stop importation of strawberries

Sherwin de Vera
Benguet farmers, dealers ask government to stop importation of strawberries

IMPORTED. Strawberries from South Korea in the market.

League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post

The League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post says the Korea-Philippine Trade Agreement does not include strawberries in the list of products allowed to enter the country, and issuing a permit to the importer is like circumventing the law

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Benguet farmers and fruit dealers urged the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to recall and cancel the importation permits for strawberries from South Korea.

League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post (LALTVTP) spokesperson Agot Balanoy said Korean strawberries started flooding the wet markets of Cebu on November 29.

According to her, BPI claimed that the fruits were for the Korean community but were distributed in Cebu wet markets and were readily available in malls.

She said BPI’s National Plant Quarantine Services Division issued a permit to import strawberries on November 20. It will last until November 20, 2024. However, she pointed out that the license was for ornamental plants and not for strawberries.

“This is misdeclaration, and a misdeclaration is a form of smuggling, technical smuggling,” she stressed.

She explained that the Korea-Philippine Trade Agreement under the General Agreement on Tariff Agreement-World Trade Organization (GATT-WTO) does not include strawberries in the list of products allowed to enter the country. She said issuing a permit to the importer of the Korean strawberries is like circumventing the law to accommodate Koreans.

Balanoy said they used to supply strawberries for Cebu but failed to get orders since the imported fruits arrived. They have yet to determine the loss they incurred for this period.

Data from the Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) of Benguet’s capital town, La Trinidad, known as the strawberry capital in the country, produces 1,175 metric tons of fresh strawberries. The crop covers 52 hectares of land cultivated by 825 farmers.

Balanoy said strawberry farmers were among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The peak season for strawberries starts in December until May. It is one the most sought for “pasalubong” among Baguio and the Cordillera region visitors. Crowd drawing events during this period further boost sales. These are Christmas and New Year in December and January, Panagbenga in February, La Trinidad Strawberry Festival in March, and the Holy Week. 

But with the travel restrictions and cancellation of these events during the pandemic, strawberry sales dropped drastically.

She explained that farmers were hoping to earn more this time as restrictions have relaxed. But their hopes were crushed by imported strawberries and vegetables coming in.

Balanoy said Benguet farmers also supply 1.5 million kilograms of salad vegetables to markets in the country daily. She added that about 130,000 farmers depend on farming to feed their families and send their children to school in Benguet province alone.

In August, Benguet farmers and traders raised the alarm over imported cabbages from China, penetrating Cebu and Metro Manila markets. In September, they again raised concern over imported carrots also from China.

Balanoy said imported vegetables were pulled out from the markets when the Senate investigation started, giving them respite. However, based on their experience, smuggled imported vegetables resurface once the issue dies down.

She clarified that imported strawberries and vegetables like carrots and cabbages did not enter Baguio City and Benguet markets. According to her, local traders do not buy imported vegetables readily available from local farmers.

The Senate started the inquiry of smuggled vegetables on December 14. In his privilege speech, Senate President Vicente Sotto blamed corrupt Bureau of Customs personnel for the problem.

“Corrupt practices committed by certain individuals have far-reaching consequences that affect our farmers, business sectors, and ultimately the Filipino consumers,” Sotto said.

Several senators supported the probe after farmers’ groups complained, citing blatant violation of the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016. Based on the law, smuggling agricultural products worth less than P1 million and a minimum of P10 million for rice is considered economic sabotage. –Rappler.com