THE government said on Tuesday that it cannot ban pork from “high-risk” countries, or those near countries struck by African swine fever (ASF), as this may trigger the filing of cases against the Philippines at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) OIC-Director Ronnie D. Domingo admitted that disallowing pork products from high-risk countries is “one of the best solutions” at this time when ASF is spreading across European and Asian countries.
Domingo said, however, that banning pork from countries that remain free from ASF may be contested by the Philippines’s trade partners and may result in disputes before the WTO due to the lack of scientific justification.
As a member of the WTO, Domingo said the Philippines may not just arbitrarily ban pork from countries that are free from ASF.
“What would be our basis [for the blanket ban]? We need a basis because if we do not have that and we pursue [the ban on high-risk countries], we could easily lose a dispute at the WTO,” he told reporters in an interview on Tuesday.
The BAI official made the pronouncement after industry groups called for the slapping of a temporary ban even on high-risk countries to ensure that the ASF would enter the country and harm the local hog sector.
Citing the guidelines of the World Organisation for Animal Health, Domingo said the Philippines may allow pork products from Belgium, provided that these will come from domestic farms that are not affected by ASF. The ASF outbreak was confined in the southern side of Belgium and affected wild boars.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Monday appealed to traders to avoid importing pork products from high-risk countries, such as Germany, to protect the local hog industry.
“We cannot actually stop [importers] but we can only appeal to them. We are calling on their sense of patriotism as [the hog] industry involves millions of poor Filipino farming families,” he added.
Meat Importers and Traders Association President Jesus C. Cham told the BusinessMirror that he would ask Mita’s members to follow the recommendation of the DA. Cham said, however, that it is still up to Mita members if they would comply or not.
Cham noted that the OIE allows the “unhampered” trade of pork products from areas uninfected by diseases, such as ASF.
The Bureau of Customs (BOC) said the BAI and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) have organized more briefings and disseminated information to Customs Naia frontliners at Terminals 1, 2 and 3.
The BOC said an interagency meeting was held on January 7 to ensure that contaminated pork and meat products from countries struck by ASF will not enter the country. Outbreaks of ASF were reported in China, Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Russia and Ukraine.
Dr. Simeon Amurao Jr., director III of the BAI; Dr. May Magno, chairman of the National African Swine Fever Task Force; as well as other BAI officers attended the meeting.
In September and October 2018, cases of pork meat products’ contamination have been recorded in Korea and Japan through dumplings and hot dogs products, according to the BOC.
The BAI also reported that outbreak of the virus can affect the more than 40 million live pigs in the Philippines, and can also destroy the P2-billion swine industry in the country.
The BOC said that safe meat products accompanied by import permits or the sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Import Clearance are the ones only qualified for release in the ports nationwide.
In line with safeguarding the borders of the country, the BOC will also be adding 50 new x-ray machines in various airports and seaports nationwide within the year.
The BOC said 15 units of fixed baggage x-ray machines, 25 units of hand-carried baggage x-ray machines, four units of mobile baggage x-ray machines and six units of portal-type x-ray machines amounting to more than P1.2 billion will be installed.
There are about 66 units of x-ray machines installed and operating in various airports and seaports nationwide at present, according to the BOC.
Image credits: Chinatopix via AP