Coffee sector sees RCEP opportunity

The ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) already allows all Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) coffees to come in and out freely, Pacita U. Juan, vice-president of the non-profit ASEAN Coffee Federation, said.

“RCEP for coffee adds Japan, Korea, and China (to the mix),” she said in a Feb. 3 Zoom call.

AFTA was a stress test for the coffee industry, Ms. Juan added: “If it were to shake up the coffee industry, it should have shaken it up already.”

RCEP will help farmers if the Philippine coffee industry avoids commodification and works out a way to promote its beans as products with distinctive origins, according to Ariestelo A. Asilo, a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Varacco, Inc., a food and beverage company.

“This free trade agreement will benefit farmers — as long as we strengthen our geographical markers of coffee and rice,” he said, referring to geographical indications (GI) system. “In other countries they have chocolates, ours will be coffee.”

A GI is “an indication that identifies a product as originating in a territory, area, or location, and where a given quality, reputation, or other characteristics of the good are primarily related to its geographical origin and human factors,” according to the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines.

The opportunities lie in crop resilience research, Mr. Asilo told BusinessWorld. More can also be done to improve production and post-harvest facilities, he added.

In a February 3 phone call, he said the Philippines produces 60,000 metric tons (MT) of coffee a year, yet demand for the product is 160,000 MT.

Revenue generated by the Philippine coffee industry is projected at $6.70 billion in 2023, according to Statista.

The average volume per person for 2023 is expected to amount to 1.36 kilograms.

Mr. Asilo cited the potential of liberica — known in the Philippines as barako coffee — which is one of the major commercially grown varieties apart from excelsa, robusta, and arabica.

“We have really good coffee. Our (flavor) profile is really good, and we are also one of the few countries that grow all four coffee bean types,” he said.

Opportunities also lie in specialization, Ms. Juan said.

The Philippine Coffee Board, of which Ms. Juan is president and co-chair, has been teaching farmers to process robusta beans into specialty robusta.

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