Exports rose for the second straight month in February ahead of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine imposed by the government in mid-March to contain the spread of coronavirus disease 2019.
The Philippine Statistics Authority said merchandise exports amounted to $5.4 billion in February, up by 2.8 percent from $5.25 billion a year ago. This followed a 9.4-percent increase in exports in January.
This brought total exports in the first two months of 2020 to $11.2 billion, up by 6.1 percent from $10.5 billion a year ago.
By commodity group, electronic exports rose 3.4 percent in February to $2.93 billion, accounting for 54.2 percent of the total. Shipments of agro-based products, mineral products, petroleum products and manufactured products also rose.
Meanwhile, imports declined 11.6 percent in February to $7.06 billion from $7.98 billion in the same month last year. Imports in the first two months also declined 6.8 percent to $16.35 billion from $17.55 billion a year ago.
Import payments fell because of lower orders for capital goods, mineral fuels and lubricants, consumer goods, raw material and intermediate goods.
This resulted in a trade deficit of $5.16 billion in the two-month period, although this was lower than the $7-billion shortfall seen a year ago.
The National Economic and Development Authority said that as the country continues to grapple with the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, the government should intensify trade sector reforms to overcome the challenges of a huge global economic slowdown.
“The public health emergency we are experiencing emphasizes the need to fast track reforms to facilitate trade by reducing transactions costs. We must be creative in finding ways to ease the movement of goods and services while we continue to implement measures to combat COVID-19,” said Economic Planning Secretary and NEDA Director-General Ernesto Pernia.
“We must aggressively pursue and prioritize the digitization of import and export documents, with the institutionalization of the TradeNet system as well as the utilization of cashless payments for all government services,” he said.
“While the government has eased the burden to businesses by allowing rent, bills and utilities payment extension, efforts should also be given to help them restart their operations and defray the cost of lost revenues,” he said.
Pernia said this can be done in the form of temporary reprieve of demurrage and customs fees or waiving of navigational charges for the airline industry, which has been among the hardest hit with the restrictions on mobility.
“Moreover, businesses should be encouraged to craft their business continuity plans that will specifically provide protocols for different emergency situations,” he said.
“The country’s experience in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought home the crucial importance of synergy of efforts of the government, private sector and citizens. Such cooperation in making limited resources work should be part of the new normal that will emerge after this pandemic,” Pernia said.