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NEWS UPDATES 27 May 2009

Philippines imports fall 36% in March

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The Philippines said Tuesday that imports plunged 36.2 percent in March from a year earlier to 3.27 billion dollars, with the key electronics sector hit particularly hard.

The downturn was attributed to a fall in the international prices of fuel and other raw materials, Dow Jones Newswires said. Total imports in the first three months of the year amounted to 9.598 billion dollars, a 34.3 percent decline year on year, the National Statistics Office (NSO) said.

The figure led to a 60 percent drop in the trade deficit to $363 million in March compared with the same time last year, the NSO said in a statement. Earlier this month the government said exports had fallen 30.8 percent to $2.907 billion in March.

"Despite the positive (economic) performance in March, the negative effects of the global financial crisis continued to wear down the local appetite for foreign goods," Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto said.

Electronic components accounted for $1.117 billion, or 34.2 percent, of total imports in March, the statistics office said. This was a 40.7-percent year on year decline. The sector is especially important as many of the components are used in the manufacture of electronic goods that make up more than half the Philippines' exports.

A decline in imports signals that exports in the coming months will also be sluggish amid signs that demand is still weak due to the global downturn. Recto said the slump in March was expected considering the "dismal" performance of the world economy in the first quarter.

The drop in imports "could be due to the change in the oil prices. Oil was pretty high last year," said Spencer Yap of BPI Securities Corp. The fall in imports "is a sign of the weakening economy but it is happening globally. We are not isolated. I would imagine this downturn is expected," said Yap.

Mineral fuels and lubricants were the second largest import, accounting for 14.3-percent of the total in March at $467.12 million but this was 60.1-percent lower than the fuel imports in March, 2008.

Despite the lower imports -- a likely signal for lower exports -- Yap said the Philippine economy could still post positive economic growth this year. "We are not very dependent on exports to drive our economy.

It is still more dependent on agriculture and remittances," from the 10 million Filipinos working overseas, he said. The United States was the main source of imports in March, with 399.99 million dollars or 12.2 percent of the total. 


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