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Record exports, imports growth lifts foreign trade in April

Record exports, imports growth lifts foreign trade in April

MANILA, Philippines — Despite a brief return to suffocating coronavirus lockdowns, trade continued its ascent in April on the back of record rise in both imports and exports, but the figures hardly reflect a convincing recovery.

External trade grew 107.5% year-on-year to $14.16 billion, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported on Wednesday morning. It was better than 26.5% uptick in March and a turnaround from 54.8% contraction posted a year ago, data showed.

Broken down, exports surged at a 72.1% annualized rate to $5.71 billion, with the mainstay electronics sector expanding 62.6%. Imports jumped a bigger 140.9% on-year to $8.44 billion, marking their third straight month of growth after 21 consecutive quarters of decline. The growth figures were the highest in PSA’s data set that dates back to at least 1991.

As a result, the trade deficit narrowed to $2.73 billion month-on-month in April.

For Nicholas Antonio Mapa, senior economist at ING Bank in Manila, the stronger trade data was expected due to distortions from low base effects. This means that even a slight improvement would dramatically boost this year’s readings when compared on an annual basis because last year’s figures were so low when lockdowns choked foreign trade.

That said, the latest trade data unlikely indicate that some lost ground from last year has been regained, especially when Metro Manila and four nearby areas were placed again under stringent lockdowns from late March to mid-April following a deadly resurgence of coronavirus cases.

“April trade data suggests that lockdowns hindered both inbound and outbound shipments as well and we can expect a sustained pickup for both exports and imports in the near term as mobility curbs are relaxed,” Mapa explained in a commentary.