THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will be crafting a program designed to bring communities across the country to the growing travel retail industry.

The year-long engagement program aims to develop communities with promising products to become sustainable and gain market access in the local tourism value chain and eventually in the international market.

“We will scout and develop these communities so their products will land in major travel retail hubs,” said DTI 7 Director Asteria Caberte.

She earlier noted that the travel retail industry grew 35 percent last year as more tourists, both local and foreign, turn to Filipino-made products as their homecoming gifts to families and friends abroad or in other parts of the country.

“There are plenty of communities across the country whose products have the big potential to be known in the local and global markets, with the right intervention by the government as well as private sector,” said Caberte, citing the ethnic baskets made by local communities in Palawan.

The planned program is also aimed at sustaining the growth of the travel retail industry here in preparation for the influx of cheaper travel retail items from the Asean region.

The country’s competitive edge compared to other neighboring countries, according to Caberte, is in material manipulation.

“We are still known for the quality of work and creativity,” she said.

DTI will select the communities they will help develop. Caberte said it doesn’t matter if they have already received help from non-government organizations.

Processed food

While souvenir items also top the list of items frequently bought by tourists as homecoming gifts, the processed food sector is the strongest in terms of retail sales, especially at District 32, the retail hub in Mactan Cebu International Airport.

Because of this, Caberte said they will strengthen their campaign and raise awareness on proper food handling and preparation to continuously ensure food safety in processed food.

“We will continue to conduct trainings and engage all local food suppliers to observe food safety,” she said.

The DTI earlier conducted a workshop among small and medium enterprises (SMEs) here on the Food Safety Act and its implementing rules and regulations.

The Food Safety Act of 2013 aims to ensure total food safety from the farm to the table.

“The market has evolved. Consumers now are very particular of the origin of the products they buy, the raw materials used, the process involved in the production. Plus, they also demand reassurance that the food they buy is safe,” said Renea Cruz-Tan, Knowledge Management Officer of the DTI’s Trade Related Assistance Project 3.

Ensuring safety on all food items sold in the market opens opportunity for SMEs to gain more access to market, both locally and globally, Caberte said.