DAVAO CITY Philippines — The forging of an air link between Davao City in Mindanao southern Philippines and Koror the capital of Palau is expected to catapult trade and commerce between the two cities.

Despite their optimism they also noted that a lot of groundwork still has to be done especially in pushing a fisheries cooperation agreement initiating shipping links and the lifting by the Palau government of its quarantine laws.

The maiden flight of Asian Spirit touched down at the Palau international airport in the late evening of April 2. The flight carried about 80 people from the Philippine government and the private sector who toured Koror and its neighboring islands for three days.

In turn a 50-strong delegation from Palau including key ministers legislators and businessmen and their spouses made their way to Davao City their Asian Spirit flight landing in the early hours of April 7. They stayed in Davao until April 9.

The Palau delegation traveled to various scenic spots in Davao City and was welcomed with great fanfare by local officials and businessmen. The delegation was treated to a host of lunches and dinners local entertainment and even a spot of gambling at a government-owned casino.

The Palau delegation especially its government officials had to attend briefings on the status of Davao and Mindanao’s economy investment and trade opportunities informal talks on tourism and agricultural cooperation as well as a discussion on the long pending fisheries cooperation pact between the two countries. (See related story on page ___.) Also heads of Palau and Davao’s respective chambers of commerce and industry signed a renewed sister chamber cooperation agreement on April 7 promising to send delegations to each other’s cities and to find ways to facilitate trade and commerce between both locales.

Billy G. Kuartei chief of staff of President Remengesau said “there are multiple areas of cooperation that can be discussed [between Davao and Palau] ” and that the air link between the two areas “will take things to a more rapid scale.” In a short speech before a dinner tendered by the Davao City mayor’s office for the Palau delegation on April 7 Kuartei noted the “6 000 Filipinos living and working in the Republic of Palau” and that “as a young and small isolated country we need friends.”

Joseph Anthony A. Reyes vice consul of the Philippine Embassy in Palau told the Journal that the new Davao-Koror air link “is a very positive development. The Palauan community welcomes it very much…as it will bring down the cost of doing business especially for businessmen with global business outlook. It is an entry point for them as the Philippines can supply a lot of their requirements.”

Phillip Reklai president and chief executive officer PRA Computer Sales & Services and vice president of the 100-strong Palau Chamber of Commerce; “warned” Davao to “get ready. We will spend here. Palauans will take a vacation go shopping.”

Echoing the sentiment Bienvenido D. Cariaga attorney and president of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry; also told the Journal that economic ties between the two locales need not be one-sided in favor of Davao. Aside from the tourists that Palau will send to Davao local companies may also buy American products in Palau at a cheaper price instead of going all the way to the U.S. “So instead of going to the United States where you spend a lot of money you just go to Palau.”

Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte of Davao City raised the possible difficulty of establishing a direct shipping link between Davao and Palau. “The problem is there are many products to ship there the problem is what do you bring back? You can’t travel empty [coming back to Davao]. That’s good for the businessmen to explore.”

Palau’s economy is basically sustained by tourism receipts and because of its geography and soil condition is only able to grow a few agricultural products such as coconuts copra cassava and sweet potatoes according the 2005 edition of the CIA World Factbook.

Its waters however are teeming with tuna which Filipino fishing companies have for a long time been wanting to explore but cannot due to a lack of a fisheries cooperation agreement between Palau and the Philippines.

Davao can supply Palau with construction materials such as cement fruits and vegetables and cut flowers. Davao is the second largest banana exporter in the world supplying international agro-industrial firms such as Dole and Del Monte and countries such as the U.S. and Japan and others in the Middle East.

But before Davao is able to export its fruits and vegetables to Palau the latter’s government has to first modify its quarantine laws which were inherited from the U.S. when Palau was still a trust territory.

Sen. Alfonso N. Diaz chairman of the Committee on Resources Commerce Trade and Development of the Palau Senate said he will be filing a bill to change his country’s quarantine laws to enable Palauans to enjoy Davao’s varied agricultural products.

“We have to expedite the process of getting the quarantine law to be modified to serve the best interest of the Republic of Palau and also the people of Palau which can take advantage of this rich fruits and vegetables from Davao ” he said.

Diaz said he was “very optimistic” that his bill would be passed “because I know my people want to have good quality and cheaper [fruits and vegetables] and if I present this to them they’ll agree with it.” He said that the U.S. government implemented those quarantine regulations because the Philippines in the past was known for its fruit flies and other plant diseases. But he added with technology the Philippines has been able to successfully treat its fruits for export to the international market. “If they’re good enough to be exported to the United States and Guam the mangoes and bananas and other stuff why not Palau?”

Meanwhile Antonio V. Turalba Jr chairman of Asian Spitir pronounced the Davao and Koror flights of the carrier a success and said he hoped tourists and businessmen from both locales would take advantage of the opportunities presented by the new air link.

Asian Spirit uses a newly purchased 80-seater British Aerospace 146-200 for its flights between Davao and Koror. Under the carrier’s logo is painted a logo of Palau Micronesia Air Asian Spirit’s partner in Palau. MBJ