Trade deficit widened to $2.6 billion in March, as exports sank for the third straight month this year and imports barely grew, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show.
Total external trade in goods reached $13.63 billion in March, down 3.4 percent from $14.11 billion in the same month in 2017. Exports dropped 8.2 percent to $5.5 billion from $6 billion a year ago, while imports rose 0.1 percent to $8.12 billion from $8.11 billion.
Economic Planning Secretary and National Economic and Development Authority director-general Ernesto Pernia said the government should actively intervene in making Philippine exports more attractive to the global market to boost trade.
“As evident from the slowdown in trade figures of Asia, and even negative performance of the Philippines, China and India in the latest exports figures, the Philippine government should double its efforts in marketing the country’s export products to international consumers,” Pernia said.
Imports continued their eighth month of expansion, with a 0.1-percent increase, as payments for mineral fuels and lubricants kept total imports afloat against declines in all other commodity groups.
Pernia said short-term measures to boost trade should include providing government support to promising export products whose demand was growing apace.
“This may include easing of government regulation, strengthened market intelligence gathering in partnership with the private sector, and maximizing the opportunities of trade agreements and economic groupings particularly within the Asian region,” he said.
He urged the Trade Department to encourage exporters to innovate and improve export quality by providing more access to testing, certification and accreditation facilities that would facilitate domestic compliance with international quality standards.
Pernia said the government was working on increasing the share of Halal goods to 11 percent of total exports through the recent establishment of the National Halal Certification Scheme.
“Exporters need to be provided with updated information that would enable them to tap countries with a huge market base to diversify their markets and decrease their vulnerabilities,” he said.
Trade deficit in the first quarter hit $8.7 billion, higher than $6.1 billion a year ago, as exports fell 6 percent to $15.75 billion while imports increased 6.8 percent to $24.4 billion.
PSA data showed that the 8.2-percent drop in exports in March was brought about by the decreases in seven of the top 10 commodities for the month led by exports of machinery and transport equipment (44.6 percent).
Other commodities that posted reduction were gold (33.8 percent); coconut oil (30.3 percent); ignition wiring set and other wiring sets used in vehicles, aircrafts and ships (28.9 percent); other manufactured goods (24.5 percent); other mineral products (21.5 percent); and metal components (1.5 percent).
It said the 0.1-percent growth in imports in March was due to the positive growth in four out of the top 10 major import commodities for the month.
These were mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials (30.6 percent); iron and steel (14.5 percent); electronic products (6.7 percent); and telecommunication equipment and electrical machinery (4.4 percent).