Wed, 10 Feb 2010

Indonesia has denied a plan to ban seaweed exports, saying its growers could meet the demand from Filipino seaweed processors.

"A total ban is beyond what we intend to happen. What we plan to do is manage exports," Victor Nikijuluw, head of Indonesia's Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, told a briefing in Makati City on Monday night.

The Philippines, once the world’s largest suppliers of raw eucheuma cottonii seaweed, has become a net seaweed importer and a major supplier of carrageenan.

Carageenan is a seaweed derivative used as a binding agent in pet food, air fresheners, gels, meat, poultry, dairy, cheese, jellies, flans, sauces, puddings, and specialty products such as toothpaste and shampoo, and lately, soft and hard capsules to coat medicines.

Nikijuluw said his government might allow seaweed companies with processing plants in Indonesia to import raw seaweed as part of the country's so-called export management.

"Another approach is to give the export license to small and medium enterprises (SME) and cooperatives. This will ensure that SMEs and cooperatives benefit from the exports of raw seaweed," he added.

Jakarta, he added, might also enforce a quota system for traders. These measures will be implemented by 2012, Nikijuluw said.

Last year, Indonesia produced 300,000 metric tons (MT) of raw seaweed, 85 percent of which were exported.

China cornered a significant chunk of this volume. The Philippines got about a quarter.

Indonesia is aiming to increase raw seaweed production to one million metric tons by 2014. Nikijuluw said the Philippines would still be able to obtain its requirements from Indonesia.

Benson U. Dakay, president of the Seaweed Industry Association of the Philippines, hopes that Indonesia will not impose to a total ban on raw seaweed exports.

"The Indonesian government wants to process raw seaweeds before it leaves the country for export. If Indonesia will impose a total ban, [its] farmers would surely suffer because they will lose markets for their produce," said Dakay who also owns seaweed processing firm Shemberg Marketing Corp.

Dakay said local seaweed processors were operating below capacity due to a deficit in raw seaweed production.

"Our cottonii processing is only 30 percent because there is no raw seaweed. We rely on Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia for supply," he said.

He also traced the lack of local seaweed supply to the inability of farmers to get financing for their farming ventures.

"In the past, [seaweed processing companies] extended loans to farmers and if they default, companies can write off their loans. Now, we can no longer do that," Dakay said.

Benjamin Tabios, Jr., assistant director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, said their hands are tied since they are not authorized to finance seaweed farmers.

Seaweed products are one of the top 10 export winners of the Philippines. In 2008, seaweed and carageenan exports reached $122 million. - NPA, GMANews.TV