THE Philippines is on track to increase its pineapple and mango exports to the United States  after resolving pest and other food-safety issues, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said. 

At a virtual meeting earlier this month, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service “mutually agreed on and threshed out” outstanding issues which will have the effect of increasing the number of ports that can receive Philippine products.

“Expanding the export market of Philippine pineapples and mangoes in the US and other countries will not only enhance our national economy, but more importantly, provide increased income to thousands of farmers and their families in pineapple- and mango-producing provinces nationwide,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said.  

Joselito L. Antioquia, OIC of the BPI National Plant Quarantine Services Division, said one of the issues resolved was the acceptance by the USDA that the Smooth Cayenne variety of pineapple exported by the Philippines does not host the oriental fruit fly.

As a result, Mr. Antioquia said the Philippines may begin exporting pineapples to various US markets before the end of the year, adding that the USDA will brief the BPI on risk mitigation measures to take against the oriental fruit fly.

“After the BPI agrees on the measures, the USDA will publish the initial notice in the Federal Register for a 60-day stakeholder comment period, review any comments, and then publish the final notice that allows the expanded market access for Philippine pineapples into the US, except Hawaii,” Mr. Antioquia said.

According to the BPI, Philippine pineapple exports currently reach the US via Guam, the Marianas Islands, and the North Atlantic regions of the US, with 346,190 kilograms of exports recorded between 2013 and July 15, 2021.

Another settled issue was the agreement that the USDA will draft a plan for the irradiation of fresh mangoes upon arrival in the US.

The DA said the irradiation of mangoes is an option offered by the USDA after the Philippines requested to remove the pre-clearance inspection procedure.

“Irradiation is a phytosanitary treatment that uses ionizing radiation to prevent the introduction or spread of regulated pests by achieving either mortality, preventing successful development like non-emergence of adults, sterility or inactivation,” the DA said.

“The country previously exported fresh mangoes to the US, from 2005 to 2008, totaling 386,099 kilograms, all produced in Guimaras Island,” it added.

The DA said the agricultural export process to the US will be eased by the inclusion of the Philippines in the “ePhyto Hub,” organized by the International Plant Protection Convention.

Mr. Antioquia said the BPI is developing systems to connect to the hub.

“The ‘ePhyto’ certification, which is also being pushed by the US, will replace official documents issued by governments with electronic forms to confirm that shipments of plants and plant products traded internationally are free of pests and diseases, and are therefore safe to import,” the DA said.

“Traditionally, certificates are done on paper, which are transmitted between parties by post, courier, or other physical means. The process takes days to complete, and is prone to errors, loss, theft, and counterfeiting. Thus, it slows down trade and, at worst, results in spoiled goods, additional demurrage charges, and frustrated customers and governments,” it added.

Meanwhile, the BPI and USDA also discussed US interest in initiating shipments of fresh US pomegranates to the Philippines.

Mr. Antioquia said the US request concerns the initial pest risk analysis stage, adding that three to six months is needed to accomplish the risk assessment.

“The BPI has already narrowed the pest list scope for pomegranates to top state producers like California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas,” Mr. Antioquia said.

According to the DA, the US imported $924 million worth of Philippine farm products in 2019.

Of the total, tropical oils accounted for $353 million, followed by processed fruits and vegetables at $165 million, fruit and vegetable juices $112 million, tree nuts $92 million, and raw beet and cane sugar $36 million.  — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave