Mon. Aug 2nd, 2021

For days we have been reading morbid stories about the death tolls from Covid-19) pandemic.

It hit China, European nations, the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Japan to name a few, and as casualties increase, the economy plummets and engines of heavy industries come to a halt. Trade falters as borders are closed to human and commodity movements to deter infections and childish politics.

Let us examine some fresh developments, like in the middle of the gloomy health outlook is a thriving banana industry in Davao.

Attribute it to Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte’s unique diplomatic saga to China and Japan that despite irritants over island and fishing disputes, one thing has become indisputable.  As what Spokesman Harry Roque describes, he has turned “best friends forever” with China’s Xi Jinping and Japan’s Shinzo Abe.

Stephen Antig, executive director of the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association, said that the first two months of 2020 overshadowed the export receipts of the same period in 2018 and 2019.

Antig reported that in 2019, fresh bananas’ performance was much better than the previous year with a 39.7% Year over Year (YOY) growth in terms of FOB value (in million US dollars) of 1.930.88 (2019) compared to 1,382.11 (2018) for fresh bananas includes Cavendish Banana, small dessert bananas and plantain.

Antig, however, pointed out that while in the first two months of 2020 the total exports in terms of the number of boxes went down in almost all markets, the FOB value went up.

This, he said, is most likely due to the increase in China’s spot market price on account of the demand for Philippine bananas considering the logistics problems attributed to the lockdown of China’s borders restricting the entry of bananas from neighboring Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

This year, despite the alarming incidents of Covid-19 cases reported in Wuhan, the Philippines managed to maintain its exports to China for the first two months of this year.

The comparative Davao exports for the month January showed an increase in volume for the first two months of the year. Despite a slight decrease in dollar value in January 2020, an almost 30% increase followed the next month following commensurate hike in spot prices for February.

                                   Volume MTs                              Value US$ in millions      

                 Months                      2019               2020               2019               2020

                 January                      361,342    >   384,151          160.57     <    159.45

                 February                    283,391    >   344,034         126.35     >    163.75

                 Source: Philippine Statistics Authority

Antig cautioned, however, that now that the borders are open, spot prices in the Philippines are rapidly decreasing from as high as PhP540 to PhP400 per box and expectedly much lower in June when bananas from Ecuador will arrive in China. Even then we are still cashing in.

The problem of banana growers is in controlling the spread of Panama disease or fusarium wilt, which creates havoc, especially among small growers’ farms. The Department of Agriculture was and is still remiss in helping small growers and it does not help that in Davao del Norte, politicians have no regard for quarantine protocols by ordering the dismantling of foot and tire wash stations, a move that only ignoramuses and idiots can contemplate.

On the whole, it pays that the friendship that binds China and the Philippines is holding on despite irritants. And thank you to Japan too. Had it not been for COVID Davao was about to embark on direct tuna and other marine products trade with China too.

In fact, Marina Tuna, had made initial deliveries but was stopped when air traffic was cut on account of Covid-19. In the meantime, while a large portion of the Davao region is still on enhanced community quarantine it is bound to wiggle out of the bind with the number of infections slowing down while the number of recoveries outpacing deaths. The next good news will still be datelined Davao.

New Economic Secretary

Karl Kendrick Chua, the new Secretary-designate of the National Economic Development Authority may be young in the eyes of his critics but he has proved his mettle when he helped craft and pushed for the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act, or TRAIN.

The Train law was doubted by the opposition in delivering reforms in Duterte’s tax agenda; Chua proved them wrong. Notably, the law exempted individual taxpayers with income not exceeding P250,000 to increase their disposable income but raised excise tax on sweetened beverages and fuel.

When Ernesto Pernia abandoned ship amidst the rough seas that the Duterte government has to navigate, Chua’s immediate designation to head NEDA came as a surprise but apprehension settled quickly upon learning that he is, in fact, a no pushover.

Pernia made a snide remark on Chua’s appointment saying “He must not just agree to everything”.  Chua’s brief repartee was crisp and sharp. “I did not covet the position” and added, “my record will speak for itself”.

That should silence Pernia for good. He should stop smarting. He had his time. But that was when everything was normal and calm. He opted to leave at the height of the storm and it was good riddance.

Secretary Chua has a gargantuan task ahead of him. It helps that he came from the working force of Secretary Sonny Dominguez and in fact, as undersecretary, heads the economic team in the department.

Not everybody knows Chua and Dominguez himself is not free from criticisms coming from kibitzers and doomsayers. However, no one can quarrel against success.

Under Dominguez as head of the economic cluster of the Duterte government, the Philippines wiggled out from getting stuck in the rut.

At one time the country overtook China’s economic growth, it’s debt to GDP ratio allows it to avail of cheap money backed by a credit rating of BBB. How these were achieved can only be attributed to how strategies are mapped out in the war room of Dominguez along Manila Bay.

So how will Chua reboot the Philippine economy? He asserts that the P8 trillion infrastructure program of the Duterte government will be an “important part” of the Philippines’ recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Construction of new train systems, roads and airports, generates jobs and has a multiplier effect.

That will be for starters. Let us watch how these will be translated into actual implementation.

In the meantime, let’s stay in the comfort or discomfort of our homes for the remainder of the quarantine period. It is our first major contribution to economic recovery. (ia/

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