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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Agri remains weakest link; Scoot airline disappoints

Agriculture’s gross domestic product performance is something not to cheer about. The farm sector, which now accounts for less than 10 percent of the Philippine economy, always disappoints economists and analysts alike, and is seen as a drag to the overall GDP growth.

Its dismal performance last year is a reflection of the sector’s decades-long retardation. The lack of post-harvest facilities and outdated farming systems have kept farmers’ income to a subsistence level. The Philippine economy cannot claim an inclusive growth if farmers remain at the bottom of the food chain.

Agriculture and fisheries production contracted 1 percent in the fourth quarter from a year ago, on lower crop harvests and fisheries output, per the data of the Philippine Statistics Authority.

“At current prices, the value of production in agriculture and fisheries amounted to P611.52 billion or 9.4 percent higher compared to the level in the same period last year,” says PSA report, noting the growth in current prices reflected the higher inflation in the fourth quarter. The production value of agriculture and fisheries for the full year of 2022 fell 0.1 percent

Crop harvests, which accounted for 59.1 percent of the total value of production in agriculture and fisheries, dropped 1.0 percent in the fourth quarter, while rice and corn output shrank 2.5 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively. Fisheries, with a 13.8-percent share in the total value of the sector, slumped 6.6 percent.

The nation’s policy makers will cringe when they learn about Vietnam’s successful agriculture story. The state-run Vietnamese New Agency reported on Dec. 30 that Vietnam’s agricultural sector met all goals set in 2022, including a growth rate of 3.36 percent. Its animal husbandry and cultivation sector expanded 2.88 percent, fisheries rose 2.88 while forestry grew 6.13 percent.

More impressive is Vietnam’s agricultural exports. Outbound shipments of agro-forestry-fishery products, according to the VNA, reached a new record of US$53.22 billion, up 9.3 percent from a year ago, with a a trade surplus of over $8.5 billion.

Vietnam’s farm exports already account for two-thirds of total Philippine exports in 2022, which rose just 5.6 percent to $78.84 billion.

The weak rise in Philippine exports, coupled with the 17.3-percent jump in imports to $137.16 billion, resulted in the country’s record trade deficit of $58.32 billion in 2022. The trade deficit would have been a different story if the Philippines had developed a strong agriculture export base.

Singapore Airline’s pride dented

Singapore’s flag carrier airline prides itself for its multiple travel accolades and supposedly impeccable service standards that are embodied in its kebaya (traditional nonya dress)-clad flight attendants, famously known as the Singapore Girl.

Singapore Airlines’ globally acclaimed standards, so the carrier’s promo claims, have won the organization multiple awards, ranging from a place on Fortune Magazine’s list of Top 50 Most Admired Companies in 2021 to being awarded the Highest Diamond Rating in the APEX Health Safety powered by SimpliFlying audit of global airlines.

A quick search on the web, however, belies Singapore Airline’s reputation. Its budget airline unit, Scoot, is the subject of many complaints, mainly about lost baggages of passengers

The web will tell you about the nightmares experienced by Scoot’s passengers. Most of the baggages appeared to have been lost between connecting flights.

The Straits Times/Asia News Network recently narrated the increasing number of travelers flying into Singapore, who were reporting lost or damaged luggages. Many travelers have to wait longer to collect their luggage after arrival.

A manpower crisis seems to be partly responsible for the lost baggages. Singapore’s aviation sector lost about a third of its 35,000-strong workforce in the last two years because of pandemic-induced travel restrictions.

But the manpower crunch should never be an excuse for bad service. One horror story tells how a South Australian mother felt “helpless, hopeless and alone” after losing a luggage that contains the life-saving medication for her 13-year-old son. Singapore Airlines lost that critical medication.

Poor airline service has no place in the modern aviation sector. Guilty airlines like Singapore Airlines and its budget airline Scoot should put up or shut up.

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