TRADE: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Philippines bananas could cost Australian Government millions
, June 15, 2002
The Australian Government and the banana industry recently spent millions of dollars containing a small outbreak of Black Sigatoka in the Tully Valley.
Black Sigatoka is easily spread and devastates banana crops. It is endemic in the Philippines.
Hence the Australian banana industry is warning the Federal Government that if Biosecurity Australia recommends allowing Philippines bananas into Australia in the Import Risk Analysis (IRA) due by the end of June, then the Government will almost inevitably have to spend millions more containing any number of exotic diseases, plants and animals.
New Zealand illustrates the problem. NZ imports Philippines bananas. Over a 14-month period from January 2001 to March 2002, NZ authorities recorded one ant, two flies, four spiders, 47 scale insects, 64 mealy bugs, 62 mites, one stick bug, and one weed among imported Philippine bananas. Fumigation and inspection procedures failed to stop these incursions from the Philippines.
These figures were detailed in a Technical Information paper recently released by Biosecurity Australia.
This is a total of 182 pest interceptions in bananas that were inspected. How many other pests were not intercepted?
Further, as News Weekly
has reported, another recent study in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology
found that of 189 recoded reptile and amphibians accidentally imported into the country in the past 70 years, 16% entered the country with imported bananas. About half of all the intercepted animals had passed through border controls and were detected after the distribution of the cargo and 86% of the animals were alive when detected.
The Philippines have many species of frogs that would thrive in Australia and threaten native species.
The Philippines' banana industry is widely recognised as being riddled with almost every pest and disease known to the global banana industry, and there are many. In fact the recent Technical Information Paper prepared by Biosecurity Australia identifies 22 pests and diseases of quarantine significance to Australia.
Australia's banana industry is concerned that the Import Risk Analysis is being rushed and its findings may be compromised as a result of Biosecurity Australia pushing too hard to meet the self-imposed deadline of June 30.
The Philippines is pressuring Australian to open its market to imports, regardless of the biological risks, threatening trade retaliation if this did not occur by June this year. Combined Australian dairy and beef exports to the Philippines are worth $600 million.
However, Australia has a reputation of being a clean, green producer, and under World Trade Organisation rules, we are entitled to set our quarantine bar as consistently high as we choose, without retaliation from other countries.
The Australian banana industry is valued at approximately $300 million at the wholesale level. It is labor intensive and employs about 5,000 people in regional Australia.
It is of vital importance to Australian communities based around towns such as Macksville, Coffs Harbour, Woolgoolga, Lismore, Murwillumbah, Tweed Heads, Nambour, Caboolture, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Mackay, Cardwell, Tully, Innisfail, Lakeland, Darwin, Kununurra and Carnarvon.
If Biosecurity Australia recommends allowing Philippines bananas into Australia, then the Federal government can expect a campaign from growers of the magnitude of that waged by the apple industry over the threat of fire blight from imported NZ apples.