The trade deficit widened to a record $9.8 billion in the first quarter from $8.1 billion a year ago as exports fell 3.1 percent while imports rose 4.7 percent, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show.
Exports fell to $16.38 billion in the first three months from $16.91 billion in the same period last year while imports increased to $26.18 billion from $25 billion.
Data showed exports in March dropped 2.5 percent to $5.88 billion while imports gained 7.8 percent to $9 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $3.14 billion during the month.
The PSA said it marked the fourth month of decline in export receipts, dragged down by a dip in sales of electronics (-3.7 percent) and petroleum products (-66.9 percent).
The higher imports were led by cereals and cereal preparations which climbed 97.9 percent; miscellaneous manufactured articles (43.5 percent); telecommunication equipment and electrical machinery (37.2 percent); other food and live animals (33.5 percent); plastics in primary and non-primary forms (14.2 percent); industrial machinery and equipment (11.1 percent); and electronic products (6.5 percent).
The National Economic and Development Authority urged local producers to continue to diversify products and earnestly look for new markets, especially abroad, to ratchet up Philippine exports.
“To drive up exports, we are encouraging exporters to continue to diversify products to expand their markets. To match this effort, the government continues to explore non-traditional markets such as Eastern European countries and is seeking to strengthen ties with traditional trading partners,” Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said in a statement.
He said the Export Marketing Bureau of the Trade Department was looking at non-electronic products such as cars, desiccated coconut, coconut oil, and footwear and wearables as new export growth drivers.
“Recently, the Philippines has also secured a commitment from the UK on continuing the same level of market access to UK post-Brexit, similar to the EU’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences,” Pernia said.
“To put the Philippines in a more competitive stance, it is crucial to open up domestic sectors to foreign participation through the proposed amendments to the Foreign Investment Act, Retail Trade Act, and Public Services Act,” he said.
The trade deficit in 2018 ballooned by 51 percent to $41.4 billion from $27.38 billion in 2017.
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