Exports and imports jumped 72.1 percent and 140.9 percent, respectively, in April as global trade reopens amid the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show.
Export sales reached $5.71 billion in April, up from $3.319 billion a year ago. The growth was faster than the 33-3 percent year-on-year increase in March.
The figure brought total export earnings in the first four months to $23.37 billion, up 19 percent from a year earlier.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the country’s export growth rate was the highest among select Asian economies, surpassing Japan’s 38 percent and China’s 32.3 percent growth rates.
Lopez said this was the second consecutive month of positive year-on-year growth, following the 33.3 percent revised growth rate in March 2021.
“Our latest export growth rate shows that we are steadily recovering from the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be considered a solid growth considering that the performance was even stronger than the pre-pandemic levels in 2019, and not just due to the low base in 2020. The recorded amount of $5.71 billion for April 2021 was higher than the recorded amount of $5.65 billion in 2019,” Lopez said.
“All the top 10 major commodity groups in terms of value of exports recorded annual increases led by ignition wiring set and other wiring sets used in vehicles, aircrafts, and ships [1,237 percent],” the PSA said in a statement.
This was followed by metal components (345.2 percent) and miscellaneous manufactured articles (256.1 percent).
By commodity group, electronic products remained the country’s top export in April 2021 with total earnings of $3.22 billion. This accounted for 56.4 percent of the total exports for the period.
Imports in April also surged 140.9 percent to $8.45 billion from $3.5 billion in the same month last year. It was faster than the 22-percent increase in March. This brought the import value in the four-month period to $34.46 billion, up 21.9 percent from the $28.27 billion in the same months last year.
“The annual increment of imported goods in April 2021 was due to the increase in all of the top 10 major commodity groups which was led by transport equipment [547.4 percent]. This was followed by mineral fuels, lubricants, and related materials [387.9 percent]; and other food and live animals [283.1 percent],” the PSA said.
Lopez said the doubling in imports of manufacturing inputs such as raw materials and intermediate goods at 118.6 percent and capital goods at 104.8 percent showed local manufacturing was ramping up.
“As we gradually and safely reopen our economies both locally and abroad, we are confident that we will see a sustained improvement in our export growth rate this year,” Lopez said.
ING Bank Manila senior economist Nicholas Mapa said despite posting “headline grabbing growth,” both imports and exports were actually down month-on-month in April as authorities reinstated tighter community quarantines to curb a surge in COVID-19 infections last March.
“Heavy-handed lockdowns in April weighed on overall economic activity, highlighted by contracting manufacturing [PMI at 49.0 from 52.2] and rising unemployment [8.7 percent from 7.1 percent],” Mapa said.
He said the April trade data suggested that lockdowns hindered both inbound and outbound shipments and a sustained pickup for both exports and imports in the near term could be expected as mobility curbs were relaxed.
“We expect exports and imports to continue to expand sharply in the coming months as the economy reopens although the trade balance will likely remain at manageable levels of roughly -$3.0 billion with capital-intensive imports not likely to pick up considerably given still subdued investment appetite,” Mapa said.
Trade deficit amounted to $2.73 billion in April, bigger than the $0.187 billion shortfall a year ago but lower than the deficit of $2.75 billion in March. This brought the trade deficit in the first four months to $11.091 billion, wider than the $8.6-billion shortfall a year ago.
Mapa said with the trade deficit close to $3 billion in April, the country was expected to post a modest current account surplus although a slip back into deficit territory might be a possibility if corporate demand for the dollar accelerates. With Othel V. Campos