President Rody Duterte flies to Japan tomorrow, his third since he was elected President, seeking to strengthen the economic ties between the long-time trading partners.
Among the issues expected to be discussed by President Duterte with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the request of Filipino fruit producers for Zero Tariff for banana, pineapple and mango.
Last night, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez advised me to provide him all the documents related to previous negotiations with the Japanese government for the granting of Zero Tariff on Philippine fruits, especially bananas.
Japan imposes a 8.4% tariff for Philippine bananas during off-season of Japanese fruits and a very high 18.4% during the fruiting season, obviously to protect their fruit farmers.
However, Ecuador, a major banana producing country, has been given Zero Tariff for its bananas exported to Japan allowing it to eat into the market share of the Philippines.
The Philippines used to dominate the Japanese banana market but recently, Ecuador, in spite of its distance, made inroads into the Japan banana market because of the Zero Tariff privilege it earned.
In October last year, during the first Presidential visit to Japan, I discussed with the Japanese Agriculture Minister the issue of the tariff on Philippine fruits, especially bananas.
The negotiations, however, have been very slow.
While Japanese consumers, according to surveys conducted, prefer Philippine bananas, trading companies are starting to shift to Ecuadorian bananas because of economic considerations.
With the personal and official involvement of President Duterte and given his friendship with Prime Minister Abe, things are expected to move faster now.
Today, the Agriculture Department will forward to Secretary Dominguez all the documents related to the negotiations and a briefer on the Philippine banana industry.
(Photo of Pres. Duterte taken during the Philippine banana congress in Davao City last year.)