The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) on Friday called on the national government to take advantage of “existing free trade agreements (FTAs) and forging new ties” with trade partners to expand the country’s export market. However, NEDA stressed that the Philippines’ trade industry recorded an upward trend.

NEDA made the call after fresh data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that exports fell in April for a fourth consecutive month by 8.5 percent year on year as non-electronic manufactured products (wood manufactures, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, processed food & beverages, and furniture and fixtures) and agro-based products declined.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia commented, “Seizing the benefits of existing free trade agreements (FTAs) and forging new ties are equally important to expand the market for exports. To make FTAs more beneficial, the government needs to continue to encourage exporters to familiarize themselves with the proper tariff classification of products to find the lowest applicable tariffs as well as apply the rules of origin to avail of zero or lower tariff rates.”

He explained that enhancing trade relations with the country’s non-traditional partners would also contribute highly to the growth of the exports sector.

Pernia went on to say, “The current turnout of imports is encouraging. But much has to be done to create an environment that is necessary for exporters to thrive. The signing into law of the Ease of Doing Business Act of 2018 is a step in the right direction.”

At the same time, Pernia said that exports in electronic products jumped by 5.5 percent in April, contributing to 69.1% of the total exports for the month that tempered the effects of the decline in export volume. The increase in exports of electronic manufactures was led by faster growth of semiconductors (5.3%), compared with the 3.1 percent uptick recorded in the previous month, reflecting the global trend as chip sales worldwide continued to grow at a double-digit pace.

With the hefty increase in imports making up for exports’ soft performance, merchandise trade returned to positive growth at 8.8 percent in April 2018, a reversal from March’s 2.7 percent decline.

He explained that the new law could bring down business costs, encourage wider participation among firms, and attract foreign investors—eventually boosting exports in the near to medium term.

Regarding trade facilitation, Pernia said that government efforts are also underway to better link up more agencies to TradeNet, the country’s link to the ASEAN National Single Window, which will enhance intraregional trade.

The PSA data also showed that imports accelerated to 22.2% in April after a moderate increase of 0.3 percent the previous month. That is attributed to the rise in inbound shipments of capital goods, raw materials and intermediate goods, consumer goods, and mineral fuels and lubricants.

Solon chides NEDA

Meanwhile, administration lawmaker Rep. Salvador Belaro Jr. of 1-Ang Edukasyon Party-list asked NEDA to apologize to the Filipino people and admit that they made a mistake when Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon said that a P10,000 monthly income is enough to provide a decent living for a family of five.

Belaro said that a sincere apology would allow the NEDA to regain public trust.

“Issue a sincere public apology for not understanding how difficult daily life is for the poor and the middle class and for not explaining their statistics better,” Belaro said adding that the apology should be made within the next few days.

Belaro also told NEDA officials to immerse themselves in an urban poor community for one week to see up close how the poor do their best to make ends meet with their meager earnings.