Our delegation, now complete at eight people, began our work on Monday (April 9th) with a series of visits to local Manila fruit and food markets. Our transpacific flight is still being felt: one of our group is still without his suitcase; a second arrived a day late (on Monday morning) due to a cancelled flight on Saturday. This trip marks the first trip to Asia for two of our group and the first time to Manila for others, so there is some adjustment going on: we had a brief ‘meet the team’ introductory meting during which we were all together for the first time and met some of our fellow travelers for the first time as well.
Monday was a national holiday in the Philippines, called Day of Valor, more or less equivalent to Memorial Day or Veterans Day in America. Most offices, including all government offices were closed. Our plan for a tour of the Port of Manila had to be cancelled, although the port itself was in operation. This was a disappointment, but there was nothing to be done. Public and wholesale markets were open and once we learned that our port tour was off, we planned our market visits to replace the port.
It is hard to imagine how a city as large as Manila keeps itself fed, to say nothing of many other elements such as water supply, sanitation, trash collection, infrastructure maintenance, electricity supply and so on. Estimates of the population of Manila range from 12.8 to 21.3 million based on the area in question: Metro Manila; the greater Manila area, etc. In any event, Manila is reckoned to be the world’s most densely populated city at 42,857 people/square kilometer (111,002/square mile); much more than Mumbai (23,000/sq km); Paris (20,150/sq km), or Tokyo (10,100/sq km).
We saw just a very small piece of the food supply component during our visit to one of the city’s wholesale food distribution districts. Block after crowded block of food distributors of all types and sizes lined both sides of all the streets. As our focus on this trip is blueberries, we were in a fruit and produce center, with seemingly hundreds and hundreds of distributors. The streets and businesses were all crowded and busy, even on this major Filipino holiday. People eat everyday, so this distribution of food goes on everyday, 24/7, 365 days each year.
Getting in and out of our air-conditioned van in the Manila heat and humidity contributed to many of us hitting the infamous “Day 2 Wall”. That is, the day after an international arrival, (Sunday for us) you’re tired, but ok. On Day 2, you hit the wall of fatigue, and as the day goes on everything seems to move more slowly and you can’t wait to get back to your hotel for a rest – which we did later in the afternoon.
Tuesday, our last day in Manila was devoted to meetings with Government officials, both the US and Filipino governments. We met with two senior officers of the US Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), experts on the local market and all of its regulations, distribution patterns, import and export data and much, much more. These professionals perform a very similar function to that of the (possibly more) familiar FCS (Foreign Commercial Service) officers at US Embassies and Consulates around the world. After this meeting at the US Embassy, we traveled across town (with a break for lunch) to the offices of the Undersecretary for High Value Crops and Rural Credit of the Philippine Department of Agriculture. We had an excellent meeting during which we described our interest to introduce fresh US blueberries to the Philippine market. As part of this effort, an official US Government invitation has been extended to the office of the Undersecretary for a formal trade visit from the Philippines to America, perhaps as early as summer 2018.
We closed out day with an early dinner and back up to our rooms to pack and prepare for our Wednesday morning departure for Vietnam. As our flight from Manila to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) departs at 6:00am, we’ll be leaving our hotel at 4:00am to be sure we’re not caught in early morning traffic.
Away we go! The next report will come to you from Hanoi, the capitol of Vietnam, after our short one day, one night stay in HCMC.
Barry Horowitz, former-Chair of the Export Council of Oregon, has taught and written on International Supply Chain Management, Logistics, Transportation and Trade topics for more than 30 years. He is currently working with the Port of Portland and other Oregon traded sector agencies to develop international trade strategies and programs.
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