May 17, 2012 / 10:20 AM / 7 years ago

Philippines seeks new markets amid sea dispute with China

MANILA, May 17 (Reuters) - The Philippines needs to develop
new overseas markets so that a maritime standoff with China,
which has thrown relations into turmoil, does not take a toll on
tourism and fruit exports, a senior official said on Thursday.	
    China has tightened quality controls on Philippine fruit and
cut the number of tourist visits to the Philippines, moves which
will likely have a limited impact on the economy, Arsenio
Balisacan, the new economic planning secretary, told reporters.	
    He is the first member of the economic team to talk about
the impact of the month-long standoff over a shoal in the South
China Sea.	
    The dispute has fuelled concern in the region over China's
growing assertiveness in waters believed to be rich in oil and
gas. China said on Thursday the Philippines had to send a clear
signal if it wanted to repair relations.	
    "As of now, we are likely to see modest effects (on the
economy), but we need to intensify our efforts to diversify our
trade with other countries," Balisacan said when asked about the
impact of the dispute on trade.	
    "So whether or not this event with China occurred, we should
have been diversifying our exports."	
     China is the Philippines' third-biggest export market after
Japan and the United States, accounting for around 14 percent of
total shipments in the first quarter of this year.	
    It also ranked fourth in foreign tourist arrivals in the
Philippines in the March quarter, government data showed.	
    China stopped a shipment of Philippine bananas in March, a
month before the sea spat on the Scarborough Shoal erupted,
after it found pests. Since then it has imposed stringent
quarantine rules on other Philippine fruit.	
    Banana exporters were given until June 1 to comply with the
new rules, said Steve Antig, executive director of the
Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association.	
   	
   The Philippines has been exporting bananas to China for over
a decade but it was only this year it had encountered quarantine
issues, Antig said.	
    Clarito Barron, head of the Philippine Bureau of Plant
Industry, said he would ask for clarification from quarantine
officials, as there were no problems with shipments to Japan and
South Korea.	
    Barron said the country was now looking at other markets for
its fruit including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Italy, France and
Britain.	
    Last week, Philippine civil society and political groups
staged a peaceful but noisy anti-Chinese protest which prompted
the Chinese embassy in Manila to advise its citizens to stay
indoors. That also led to Chinese travel agencies suspending
tour packages to the country.  	
    In the popular resort island of Boracay in the central
Philippines, tourism officials said daily arrivals of Chinese
tourists had fallen to low double or single digits since
Friday's protest from more than 400.	
    "It is not something that will cripple our tourism industry
at this point, but it does not mean we don't have to pay
attention to the issue," Balisacan said.	
    The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday the Philippine
government had to show it wanted to repair relations.	
    "We demand that the Philippines send a clear and unified
signal about bilateral relations, creating conditions for an
earnest and serious dialogue between our two sides," ministry
spokesman Hong Lei told a daily briefing in Beijing.	
    "We have noted the Philippines' statements about attaching
importance to developing bilateral relations, and we hope that
the Philippines will take practical steps to create the
necessary conditions and a healthy atmosphere for improving
relations and protecting cooperation."
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