The country’s merchandise imports fell by 8 percent in January this year to $4.725 billion from $5.134 billion a year ago, according to a report of the National Statistics Office.
The NSO attributed the decline in the import bill to the sharp drop in the purchases of mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials (-30 percent); electronic products (-14.4 percent); organic and inorganic chemicals (-9.8 percent), and plastics in primary and non-primary forms.
The January import bill was also 10.9 percent lower than the December 2012 level of $5.3 billion.
Benjamin E. Diokno of the University of the Philippines School of Economics said, “The sharp drop in imports in January 2013 is not consistent with a growing economy.”
Diokno said that, historically, strong economic growth happened alongside strong import growth, arising from higher demand for fuel and electricity and inputs for construction, telecommunications and other services.
The sharp drop in imports of minerals, fuels, lubricants and related materials suggests that either the economy is not growing as fast as planned or that oil smuggling has intensified, he added.
The decline in the importation of electronic products, which accounted for about a fourth of imports and is also the biggest contributor to exports, should also be a concern given that semiconductors posted a bigger contraction of 17.6 percent compared to year-ago level.
“The drop in overseas purchases of materials/accessories for the manufacture of electrical equipment seems to indicate a possible sluggish export performance of electronic products in the first quarter of 2013,” Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in a statement.
However, Balisacan noted, higher imports of consumer and capital goods partially tempered the drop in total imports during the period. “The higher spending for imported consumer products partly reflects the optimistic expectations of consumers, on the back of macroeconomic improvements recorded in the previous year,” he said.
“The increase in payments for imported capital goods was supported by continuously upbeat outlook on the macroeconomy, with the percentage of businesses with expansion plans increasing to 29.6 percent in the first quarter of 2013 from 28.8 percent in the same period in 2012.”