MANILA Philippines "" Pacific Rim Brokers Inc. is looking forward to less costly mangoes from the Philippines with the recent decision by the U.S. to allow other provinces in the Philippines to export produce.

In the same manner Philippine mango exporters should see higher sales this year as more mangoes are expected to be shipped to Guam Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands.

At present only mangoes from Guimaras Island in the province of Iloilo have been allowed to be exported to the U.S. and its territories because the island had been declared free of the mango pulp and mango seed weevil diseases. But in December the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would allow fresh mangoes to be imported from other areas of the Philippines except for one province Palawan whose mangoes still carry diseases. Mangoes to be exported to Guam Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands will have to undergo vapor heat treatment to kill the fruit flies which cause said diseases.

Peter R. Sgro chairman of Pacific Rim Brokers; told the Journal "We support the effort for more regions of the Philippines to be allowed to export since this will help drive the cost down and in my opinion be very helpful in spreading the wealth for this product among farmers in many regions rather than just Guimaras." Aside from Guimaras in the Visayas region other mango-producing areas in the Philippines are in Zambales Batangas Bataan and Pampanga all in the Luzon region. There are other areas in the Visayas such as Cebu and Davao in Mindanao which also produce fresh mangoes.

Pacific Rim Brokers imported mangoes from Guimaras for the past four years and is the largest exporter of Philippine mangoes to the U.S. mainland. In the first two years Pacific Rim Brokers sourced its mangoes from Diamond Star Agro Products and the last two years from Dole Asia.

"Prices however have gone up for everyone since companies like Dole and others must contribute to the overall USDA cost for an inspector to be in Guimaras and other USDA-related expenses roughly amounting to $100 000 (a year). This drives prices up especially since we are working with a limited supply. Our hope is other regions open up so the supply increases all-year-round thus driving down the cost. With the current limited supply to only Guimaras and the high USDA fees of course the price for Philippine mangoes will remain uncompetitive in the U.S. " Sgro said.

Despite the quality of Philippine mangoes there is stiff competition from those coming from Mexico which only cost $1.59 per pound (retail freight on board). Philippine mangoes on the other hand cost $3.99 per pound he said. Mangoes from Mexico are also sold on Guam "all-year-round " but those from the Philippines are sold only half a year because the mango season in Guimaras only lasts four to five months. He said Guam consumers prefer Philippine mangoes because of the taste and quality over Mexican mangoes.

"In our first two years we easily sold 1 000 cases or one 20 foot container a week on Guam alone. (In 2005) that dropped to about 500 cases a week since the cost for us in just two years has increased by about 57%. Shipping also creates some issues since there are no direct ships to Guam from Manila. Air freight is not an option anymore since the cost of the mango alone now will not justify even the lowest of margins by a retailer and for us as a wholesaler it also makes no sense to add the cost of air freight " Sgro said.

Roberto Amores president of the Philippine Mango Exporters Foundation; said his group is projecting almost a 200% jump in sales with the widening of approved areas for mango exports.

"With this new development we expect to ship about 200-250 tons of fresh mangoes this year. My company Hi-Las Marketing Corp. will probably account for 40% of that " he told the Journal.

He said volumes from sources outside Guimaras will "significantly improve" and the costs of transporting and exporting the mangoes will be lower if coming from the Luzon region. "We will be able to transport the mangoes straight to the packing facility (in Manila). There will be no additional quarantine as well." Last year the Philippines exported only 18 tons of Philippine mangoes because of the low output of Guimaras island and because of the prohibitive costs of exporting "not many exporters participated " Amores said. Airfreight to Guam and the U.S. mainland is expensive he said.

This year Amores said exports to Guam and the U.S. territories will substantially increase also because the Philippine government is expected to subsidize at least half of the USDA inspection fees and quarantine expenses. "We have a pending request for assistance with the (Philippine) Department of Agriculture to fund at least 50% of our inspection/quarantine expenses or $50 000. The Secretary (of Agriculture) has responded positively to our request."

The Philippine government also announced a $280-million export "promotion fund" to help local exporters be more competitive in the face of a stronger peso vis-à -vis the U.S. dollar and an economic slowdown in the U.S. "We (mango exporters) are included in that " Amores said.

USDA inspectors will be arriving in Manila in the second or third week of February to certify the VHT facilities for mango exports to the U.S. territories. The first mango shipment from Luzon is expected to commence in the first week of March. The mango season started in March 2006 and will last until February 2007.

The Philippines exports about $46 million worth of fresh and processed mango mainly to Japan Hong Kong New Zealand U.K. Switzerland and Belgium. The entire U.S. market for fresh and processed mangoes is about $200 million a year which is largely cornered by Mexico. Philippine mango exports to the U.S. mainland are largely in dried or pureed form.

The USDA is currently surveying the mango orchards in Luzon to determine whether the produce are free from pests and diseases before they are allowed entry to the U.S. mainland. Hernani Golez chief of the National Mango Research and Development under the Bureau of Plant Industry; said a USDA team has been in the country since September to conduct the survey. "They are expected to complete the survey by June next year " Golez said. After Luzon the USDA will survey the other Visayan provinces by next year then Mindanao in 2009.

"The results of the pest risk analysis will be the basis for which U.S. quarantine authorities will approve or deny the Philippines’ request to also allow mango producers outside of Guimaras Island to export the tropical fruit to the U.S. (mainland) " according to Dennis Voboril director of the Manila-based Agricultural Trade Office of the USDA. MBJ