Question: When is an import not an import?
Answer: When it is a returning cargo!
Welcome to the world of the Balikbayan trade.
Balikbayan literally means Returning Filipino. With millions of Filipinos living and working outside of the country the diaspora is a major power — especially the huge amount of overseas remittances sent back from abroad.
The Balikbayan system is designed to reward returning “Pinoy” by allowing them duty free allowances for goods coming back from abroad. If you have ever boarded a homebound Philippine Airlines flight you remember the towers of “Balikbayan Boxes” on their way home. These goods can arrive unchecked and are not duties by customs. This does not mean that they are not scanned for illegal substances — and that is another story.
Initially the Balikbayan system was designed to cover personal goods for workers on the return home. It has evolved into a major import system for all sorts of goods — especially foodstuffs. And, yes even blueberries. Filipinos love sweet foods and the dried blueberry has become a prestige item and a prime “Balikbayan good.” The system has evolved into an elaborate parallel freight channel for larger goods with huge Balikbayan boxes used to transport goods by sea. Specialized Balikbayan express companies will move just about any cargo into the country and fast.
What does this mean for blueberries. First of all a good amount of the blueberries entering the Philippines are not picked up in government statistics on the Philippine side. In fact the current statistics are about a year old. Here is a look at the current statistics from US Customs.
Note the fresh imports!