From bananas to maids, Chinese demand for Philippine specialties expands

Updated 2017-11-07 09:01:57 Xinhua

Fruit importer Xie Jiantuan is generous in his praise for Philippine bananas.

"They are big, look nice, taste good and sell well in the market," said Xie, who runs a fruit trading company in China's southeastern Fujian Province, close to the Philippines.

Xie has been importing bananas for years. The fruit, he said, is among the favorites of Chinese wholesalers because of its low cost and high market price. Domestic bananas can hardly compete.

The Philippines is the world's largest banana producing country and about a quarter of its exports end up in China, Philippine statistics authority figures show.

A dip in trade was reversed after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited China in October 2016, which signaled a return to "good neighborly relations."

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will visit the Philippines in mid-November. The visit, the first time by a Chinese premier for ten years, has raised expectations of a further boost in trade.

China is now the Philippines' largest trading partner. In the first seven months of 2017, Philippine fruit exports to China reached 420,000 tonnes.

Guangdong Province accounts for one-third of China-Philippine trade and the rise in imports is most visible in coconut and pineapple. In the first nine months this year, coconut import nearly tripled and pineapple imports grew by more than one third. Banana imports also edged up 5.6 percent.

Xie, the fruit trader, is not surprised. He said the demand for Philippine bananas has been steady and has probably hit the ceiling, but the scope of the market is expanding.

And it is not just about fruit. While palm-fringed beaches in China's Southeast Asian neighbors are filled with Chinese tourists, the Philippines holds an unbeatable strength: a large, high-quality, low-cost, English-speaking work force.

Already home to call centers for global corporations, the Philippines is an ideal destination to out-source English teaching for online education companies.

51Talk, a New York Stock Exchange-listed Chinese startup, hires Filipinos as online tutors for Chinese families who want their children to learn English from native speakers as early as possible.

CEO Jack Huang said the business strategy came from his personal experience. Huang discovered low-cost, but highly efficient, online English tutoring by Filipinos while he worked in Japan.

After he returned, Huang founded his company in 2011 and after barely a year, started using teachers in the Philippines. Today, 51Talk claims to have more than 10,000 home-based teachers in the Philippines.

Huang once told the media that Filipinos are patient, know how to teach English as a second language, and their language proficiency is much higher than people think. The cost, however, is much lower than hiring American or British tutors.

In an online video posted on the company's website, a 20-year-old from Angeles city in northern Philippines said that in two years she had taught more than 1,700 Chinese students online and became a five-star rated senior teacher on the 51Talk platform.

"I captivate my students by smiling and being cheerful," said the girl, who identified herself as Darcy. "The students are my source of motivation. Seeing them become better English speakers is the best reward."

Whereas 51Talk targets middle class families, there is a place for another Philippine service in the life of the "nouveau riche."

The appetite for household helpers is growing in China as city folks have more money but less free time. As they complain that local maids are disloyal or unprofessional, some begin to look for highly acclaimed Filipino maids as an alternative. The majority of overseas Filipino workers are domestic servants. Their remittances are a pillar of the Philippine economy.

While it remains illegal for Chinese mainland families to hire foreigners as household service workers, Shanghai has begun a pilot program allowing foreign maids to work for high-level foreign expatriates.

In March, a Filipino was the first to receive such a work permit. Shanghai alone has an expat community of 170,000. Demand is huge.

At the moment, it remains unclear whether the policy will be tested in more cities or when it will cover Chinese families who can afford the service.

A Shanghai-based corporate executive surnamed Lu spoke highly of her Filipino maid.

"I had fired many in-house maids until I met Amanda," she said, referring to the Filipino maid. "She knows her work and teaches the children English. I feel gratified."

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