CHINA has dethroned Japan as the top buyer of Philippine bananas as Filipino growers take advantage of Beijing’s growing economy and population. However, planters are seeking production support to maintain their stronghold in the new top market amid stiff competition from South American producers.
Government and International Trade Centre (Intracen) data crunched by the BusinessMirror showed that China became the country’s No. 1 market for bananas in 2018, claiming the spot that Japan had held for over 30 years.
The Philippines’s banana shipments to China in 2018 expanded wby 70 percent to 1.273 million metric tons (MMT) from the 748,511 MT recorded volume in 2017, Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data showed.
Total exports to China last year
was 16.56 percent higher than the 1.092 MMT shipped to Japan, according to PSA
the country’s banana exports to Japan rose by 32.12 percent from 826,526 MT in 2017.
As reported by China, Japan
The volume of Philippine bananas imported by China as reported to Intracen reached 1.016 MMT, 39 percent higher than the 730,017 MT in 2017.
The figure disclosed by China remained higher than the volume of Philippine bananas that Japan imported and reported to Intracen. Intracen data showed Japan imported 838,690 MT of Philippine bananas.
Despite the discrepancies between the PSA and Intracen data, one thing is clear: China is the country’s newest top buyer of homegrown bananas.
In the view of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), the driver of the expanding banana shipments to China is a no-brainer: the sheer size of its population and economy.
“You can never go wrong with 1.3 billion people. China’s economy is growing by leaps and bounds over the years,” PBGEA Executive Director Stephen A. Antig told the BusinessMirror.
“We knew that it’s only a matter of time that China would overtake Japan as our top market due to its growing economy,” Antig added.
This growing economy, Antig explained, allowed the Chinese to have higher purchasing power, hence, the capacity to buy more bananas and even better-quality ones as they have started to move away from “Class B” produce.
Antig noted that the warming ties between Manila and Beijing also contributed to higher shipments as the Asian giant opened up its market further for Philippine bananas.
“Definitely, the friendship being extended by the Philippines to China helped us, especially [since] Manila is saying…let’s not talk about ideologies, let’s talk about economics and business,” he said. Based on PSA data, this is the first time that China became the top buyer of Philippine bananas since 1991.
To University of Asia and the Pacific Center for Food and Agri-Business Executive Director Rolando T. Dy, Beijing’s fast-expanding middle class and low per-capita consumption accounted for the growth in banana exports to China.
Furthermore, infrastructure in China has been improving, hence, resulting in better inland logistics to Central China, Dy added.
China’s present banana consumption patterns are quite the opposite of what is being observed in the Japanese market, according to Dy.
Dy pointed out that Japan’s per-capita banana consumption seems to have reached a plateau at about 8 kilograms. This, coupled with the aging population, accounted for the slower growth in Japanese banana imports.
“Japanese consumers are [also] getting older, and family size is getting smaller with late and fewer marriages,” he told the BusinessMirror.
He also noted that stiff competition with other exporters, particularly Latin American countries that have eaten into the Philippines’s market share in Japan, is also a factor.
Antig urged the government to help banana planters, especially small growers, reduce their cost of production (COP) to ensure that the price of the homegrown yellow fruit remains competitive against other exporting countries. This, Antig noted, would fortify the Philippines’s position in China as its top supplier of bananas.
“One of the reasons our traditional markets have started to buy from other producers is that they have a price advantage,” he said.
“And logically, if you are a consumer, you would purchase cheaper ones if the qualities are just the same as that of the expensive ones,” he added.
Philippine bananas remain competitive against Ecuadorian bananas in China mainly because Philippine bananas enjoy a taste advantage, since the Chinese deem these to be much sweeter, Antig said.
“But that is until when? It would be sooner or later that the basis of the competition would be the price,” he said. “They are saying our bananas are much sweeter, I don’t know how true is that.”
The country’s total banana shipments in 2018 expanded by nearly 18 percent to 3.388 MMT from 2.872 MMT, becoming the second-top exporter of the yellow fruit in the world.