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PHL, China dispute ushers in 'difficult period' for bananas and tourism

July 26, 2012 7:31pm
The dispute over the Panatag Shoal could mean a “difficult period” for the country’s banana exports and tourism industry, where China plays a significant role, a retired journalist who used to work in Beijing said Thursday.
 
“I think there is still a potential for developing banana exports (and tourism). But we’re going through a difficult period right now,” said Emmy award-winning journalist Chito Santa Romana, a  former Beijing bureau chief of ABC News. 
 
Last May, as the standoff with China over Panatag Shoal deepened, China imposed tighter phytosanitary measures for Philippine bananas after it supposedly saw bugs in the banana shipments.
 
Also last May, China issued an advisory suspending tourism flights to the Philippines after Filipino civil society groups protested against Beijing’s growing aggression in West Philippine Sea. The protesters picketed in front of the Chinese consulate in Makati City.
 
Santa Romana said the Philippines and China should “get (the dispute) in the back-burner” to normalize trade relations with the world’s second largest economy.
 
“You need gestures of goodwill on both sides and we have to meet halfway in order to meet normal relations,” Santa Romana said during a forum on the impact of the Panatag Shoal dispute on the Philippine economy.
 
The Philippine-China Conflict Forum was organized by the Center for Philippine Futuristics.

Unfortunate coincidence?
 
Former ambassador to China and now Lyceum Professor Josue Villa said it is “unfortunate" that China’s stricter measures in trade and travel coincided with the Panatag Shoal standoff.
 
But Villa doubts China deliberately imposed the travel advisory and phytosanitary measures on agriculture produces because of the dispute.
 
“It just so happens that the trade and travel restrictions happened at such a time when the Scarborough dispute is hot news,” the former ambassador told GMA News Online on the sidelines of the forum.
 
Villa hoped the two countries could find a peaceful solution to the brewing geopolitical conflict so they can reach their target of doubling 2011 bilateral trade volume to about $60 billion by 2016.
 
In his presentation during the forum, Santa Romana said Philippine banana exports to China reached $32.2 billion in 2011, up 22 percent from $27.7 billion in 2010.
 
China is also the country’s second biggest market for bananas, Santa Romana noted.
 
While authorities in Beijing have somewhat relaxed the entry of Philippine Cavendish, Santa Romana cited reports that some Chinese have refused to eat Philippine bananas that managed to enter the market.

2 million Chinese tourists by 2016?
 
On tourism, Santa Romana said Chinese tourists were asked not to go to the Philippines because Beijing was “afraid that they’re safety is affected” by the standoff.  
 
It does not mean though that they will be harmed when they arrive in the Philippines, he added.
 
China is the fourth largest source of foreign visitors in the Philippines. Tourist arrivals from China increased by 29.7 percent to 243,137 in 2011 from 187,446 in 2010.
 
Even if Chinese tourists accounted for only 6.2 percent of total arrivals in 2011, they recorded the highest growth rate during the first quarter, Santa Maria noted.
 
The volume of visitors from China grew 77.53 percent in the first three months of 2012 from a year earlier – largely boosted by Chinese New Year celebrations in February.
 
Arrivals from South Korea increased by 23.08 percent in the same comparable period, while American tourists increased by 6.35 percent and Japanese visitors by 3.85 percent.
 
Before the travel advisory was issued by China, the Philippines was targeting 2 million Chinese tourists by 2016, Santa Romana said. — VS/ELR, GMA News
 



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