SOME banana plant parts from the Philippines have been banned from export to the United States to prevent the spread of a plant disease.
The United States on Friday notified the World Trade Organization that it would no longer allow importation of some plant parts of all banana and plantain species of Musa spp. and the banana species Abyssinian from Australia and several Asian countries including the Philippines.
Effective May 21, the order applies to rooted plants, rooted and unrooted cuttings, roots, and rhizomes in countries where the banana fungal pathogen Fusarium oxysporum or Foc TR4 is known to occur.
The United States plant health inspection service said that the pathogen “poses a serious threat to US agriculture.”
“The restriction to prevent the introduction and establishment of Foc TR4 is needed and warranted to mitigate the plant pest risks associated with this pest,” it said in the federal order.
The Philippines’ Department of Agriculture in September said it would set aside more than P260 million to support the rehabilitation of farms hit by the Panama disease or fusarium wilt caused by the soil-borne fungus. The funding would also finance the development of disease-resistant varieties.
Panama disease could substantially cut Philippine banana exports if left unchecked, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said.
The Philippines’ top agricultural export commodity banana exports last year declined by more than 20% to $1.5 billion compared with 2019.
Banana exporters last year saw stronger competition, higher tariffs, and declining output due to the Panama disease, the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, Inc. (PBGEA) said in July 2020.
The Trade department has been pushing for more banana exports as it seeks a conclusion to free trade negotiations with South Korea by June.
Negotiations had previously stalled on items like bananas, for which Philippine producers are seeking lower tariffs, and South Korean auto exports, for which Seoul is seeking greater access.
Philippine trade representatives have also indicated interest in exporting Cavendish bananas to Australia, which is conducting a review for pest infestation risk.
The United States import ban does not apply to seeds, leaves, cut flowers, fruits, and plants in tissue culture.
Local banana industry groups have not responded to requests for comment as of deadline time. — Jenina P. Ibanez