Big export opportunity for PH from Region-2 crops to East Asia seen

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By Victoria ‘NIKE” De Dios

Apart from being known as the country’s rice granary, the Cagayan Valley region is blessed with other high-value crops that set to spur more export business potential that would further bolster the local agri-business in the region.

Having said this, the Department of Trade and Industry’s Philippine Trade and Investment Centers in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan identified high-value crops from Region 2 with significant export potential to East Asia during a discussion on opening up the agricultural production of Cagayan Valley to global markets last May 11, 2021.   

The Philippine Trade and Investment Center, the representative office of DTI abroad, together with the DTI-ROG2 and Department of Agriculture-R02, gathered in a webinar to present export opportunities that harness Cagayan Valley’s strength as a predominantly agricultural region. 

“Our bountiful Cagayan Valley has a lot to offer, not only here in the Philippines, but probably in other countries as well. Let us not be contented with our current markets; let us not simply be the suppliers to exporters, but rather be the exporters,” Leah Pulido-Ocampo, regional director for DTI Region 2 said during a webinar on market trends and opportunities for Region 2 High-Value Crops. “Let us banner our agricultural prowess to the rest of the world. Together, we will transcend international borders until we can say that Region 2 is ready to see the world.”  

More than a third of Cagayan Valley region’s land area is dedicated to agricultural production. It is the country’s leading producer of corn and second in palay production, explained Carol Pasion, agricultural specialist for the DA-R02. Bananas, pineapples, mung beans, purple yam, and citrus are among the region’s high-value crops that provide high net returns per hectare of land.    

In Japan, mung bean is a “million-dollar business,” according to Kenneth Yap, commercial attaché of PTIC-Tokyo. “You don’t have to be a very big farmer to export mung bean. We just need to consolidate what we have in the region.”  

To successfully export to developed markets like Japan, it is important to craft a compelling narrative around Cagayan Valley. “If we could go on creating a niche market, say for Region 2 bananas, I’m sure we have a ready story to tell from Region 2 and that would make a lot of difference,” said Pit Laquian, agriculture attaché of the Department of Agriculture. “Even if we don’t export, like DOLE or Sumifru, I think we can create a brand for Region 2.”  

Laquian adds that they are exploring non-traditional channels to bring Philippine products to Japan, such as making tropical fruits available in the country’s wide network of vending machines.  

Of the region’s high-value crops, only pineapples and mung beans are allowed into Taiwan since there are export bans for other products, explained Michael Alfred Ignacio, Director of Commercial Affairs of PTIC-Taipei. He reminds aspiring exporters that branding and positioning are critical to gaining a foothold in a sophisticated market like Taiwan. 

For Singapore, there is a significant opportunity to export agricultural products since the island state imports 90% of its food, according to Katrina Banzon, Officer-in-Charge of PTIC-Singapore. In particular, exporters can look into supplying ingredients to Philippine F&B outlets that are already present in Singapore, such as Jollibee, Potato Corner, Carmen’s Best, and Tapa King. “There is [an] opportunity for you not to directly export to Singapore but probably to go through these brands as an ingredient or component to their food that will be eventually exported to Singapore,” she said.  

The same can be said for Hong Kong which imports 95% of its food materials due to limited arable land. With Hong Kong importing US$3.65 billion of fresh fruits in 2019, there is great room for world-class Philippine fruits to gain market share, explained Atty. Roberto Mabalot Jr., Vice Consul – Commercial of PTIC-Hong Kong. “Cherries, grapes, and oranges are the top three [fresh fruit imports]. Durian is the top four…We really hope we can also bring in our durians in Mainland China and Hong Kong,” he said. 

Similarly, high-value crops are the second biggest group of Philippine exports to South Korea, said Jojie Dinsay, Commercial Counsellor of PTIC-Seoul. He identified bananas, pineapples, and mangoes as local agricultural champions commanding significant market share.  

Agnes Legaspi, Assistant Director of DTI- Export Marketing Bureau shared how the EMB supports exporters through business matching, export trade complaints handling, exporter accreditation, market and product consultancy, outbound/inbound business missions, and knowledge processing solutions.  

“Especially important for us the Post at FTSC and EMB is that we contribute to the GDP by increasing our exports. Because the metric is actually net export minus imports and it has been many many decades that we have been net importer as a country. We hope that you continue to support export by developing new products and services,” she said.  

In the closing remarks, Winston Singun, Provincial Director of DTI-Isabela emphasized the importance of being export-ready before venturing beyond national borders.  

Organized by DTI Region 02, the webinar was attended by approximately 250 participants on Zoom and Facebook Live. The virtual event is envisioned to drive the interest of agri-stakeholders from Region 2 in exporting and level up the region’s position in the global value chain.