Philippine exhibitors say they have been subjected to delays in customs clearance for products to be displayed at an annual China-Asean investment amid an ongoing territorial dispute over South China Sea.
At least three Philippine rice producers were still waiting for their products to be cleared by local customs two days into the four-day exhibition in Nanning, capital of Guangxi .
The rice exhibits were being held up even though products normally considered contraband in the mainland such as tigers' teeth and ivory accessories were displayed openly at the fair. Exhibitors said a single tiger tooth costs 8,000 yuan (HK$10,000) and a piece of ivory about the length of a man's hand, 20,000 yuan.
Philippine exhibitors have taken up only two aisles at the fair, while Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand occupy at least one exhibition hall each. With their goods tied up at customs, the Philippine rice booths displayed only small samples, business cards and product brochures.
"Many exhibitors here are still waiting for to be released by Chinese customs. It's already the second day into the exhibition and products are not here yet," said a food company manager who declined to be named.
"We only have three small packets to display, which I brought in my luggage, while 500kg of our rice is still with the Chinese customs," said another Philippine rice manufacturer who did not want to be named.
"But producers from Cambodia and other countries are displaying and selling their rice without any such problems."
"I think [this treatment ] is the result of ongoing territorial disputes," the first manager said.
However, spokesman with the Nanning Customs District yesterday denied the claim, saying they provided "efficient and passionate service to all countries with equal treatment". The customs clearance delays for rice was confirmed by two Philippine trade officials, but they said they did not understand the reason for the hold-up.
Julie Zardilla of the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry yesterday assured exhibitors their rice would be cleared soon.
At least one Philippine trader lodged a complaint against the strict Chinese rules.
"They are demanding a lot more documents than usual, like all sorts of data on ingredients, nutrition analysis and so on," said a fruit exporter.
"They are getting very technical with us… It's hard for us to export goods to China. It will makes us much more cautious when trading with China."
Philippine President Benigno Aquino was reportedly cancelled his visit for the fair after Beijing demanded that he first withdraw a UN arbitration case over disputed islands in the South China Sea. China said it has never invited Aquino in the first place.
Meanwhile, China yesterday denied a Philippine claim that it was about to build a structure on the Scarborough Shoal, known in Chinese as Huangyan Island.
"The situation claimed by the Philippines is not true," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing yesterday. He spoke a day after Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Philippine forces saw three Chinese coastguard ships and concrete blocks at the Scarborough Shoal since August 31.
"The Chinese government's sending ships to maintain regular patrols in Huangyan waters to protect its sovereignty and keep order is China's legitimate right," Hong said.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg