Planters aim to resume export of abaca to India in Q1

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This file photo shows a farmer in Catanduanes hand-stripping abaca. The Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority said it is now working on the immediate lifting of the ban imposed by India on the iconic Philippine fiber.

The Philippines is targeting to resume the shipment of raw abaca fiber to India within the first quarter in its bid to maintain its reputation as the world’s top exporter of the natural fiber.

India banned  abaca fiber imports from the Philippines over alleged sanitary and phytosanitary concerns and other “technical lapses.”

Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFida) Executive Director Kennedy T. Costales said, however, that the ban was imposed to protect India’s local jute industry against Philippine abaca. India, Costales said, is the world’s biggest producer of coir and jute fibers.

Nevertheless, Costales said the government is now undertaking the necessary measures to have the ban immediately lifted and ensure that international markets will remain open to local abaca products.

While India is not a major importer of Philippine abaca, Costales said a prolonged ban could hurt the country’s stature as the world’s top producer and exporter of the natural fiber, known the world over as Manila hemp.

He noted, however, that the government has not received any official communication from other trade partners of the Philippines, such as European countries and Japan, about the ban imposed by India.

“It’s about our reputation. We have to protect our reputation, that what we are shipping are all quality fibers,” Costales told the BusinessMirror.

“The ban is clearly trade protectionism or shielding a country’s domestic industries from foreign competition,” he added.

Costales said India banned Philippine abaca since September 11 due to one shipment, which contained first-class rope-grade abaca fiber, which allegedly lacked proper documentation and had Moko-moko disease.

However, Costales denied the allegations and argued that the shipment, which was about 22.5 metric tons, was properly documented. He also argued that Moko-moko could not be present on abaca fiber as it is already processed.

The disease, according to Costales, would only affect abaca plants which, if infected, would result in stunting and deterioration of stalks.

Costales added that all abaca exports are cleared by the PhilFida to ensure that these are compliant with the Philippine National Standards prior to shipment.

“If we will not act on this, it is like we have already accepted that our exports have diseases and other problems. And that is not true,” he said. “That is why we have to fight all these allegations and we have to prove [to India] that they are wrong.”

Costales said concerned government agencies would convene this month to identify the measures to be undertaken to hasten India’s lifting the ban on Philippine abaca. He added that they would talk with their Indian counterparts after they come up with possible solutions.

“Hopefully this is already done by the first quarter. This is our priority even if it is just a small market but the fact remains that we have to correct their allegations,” Costales said.

The country shipped 45 metric tons of raw abaca fiber to India from January to October last year. The figure is the same as the volume exported by the Philippines to India in 2017, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

PSA data showed that the value of Philippine abaca shipped to India during the 10-month period reached $82,800, 2.91 percent over the $80,460 recorded a year ago.

Figures from the PSA also indicated that the Philippines exported about 5,184.25 MT of raw abaca fiber to India from 2006 to 2017.

From January to October last year, the Philippines’s raw abaca fiber exports ballooned  to 199,905.87 MT, from 16,019.875 MT recorded during the same 10-month period in 2017, PSA data showed.