Merchandise imports contracted in May, making the previous month’s recovery temporary.
The National Statistics Office reported Thursday that imports in May reached $5.26 billion, down by 2.4 percent from $5.39 billion a year ago.
This brought the total import figure for the first five months of the year to $24.76 billion, down by 3.6 percent from $25.68 billion in the same period in 2012.
In May, the country incurred a trade deficit of $364 million, given total merchandise exports of $4.89 billion. This was, however, narrower than the trade gap of $454 million in May last year.
Economists said the contraction in imports indicated that the outlook for the global economy remained bleak.
In the case of the Philippines, electronics—composed mainly of inputs for the manufacturing of intermediate goods for export—accounts for the biggest share in the total import bill.
Economists said that in an uncertain economic environment, purchases become more focused on basic goods as consumers veer away from non-essentials.
Data from the NSO showed that electronics imports for May amounted to $1.28 billion, down by 11 percent from $1.43 billion in the same month last year.
The other items composing the country’s top five imports for the month were the following: mineral fuel, lubricants, and related materials (down 8.7 percent to $1.18 billion); transport equipment (down 13.8 percent to $316.8 million); industrial machinery and equipment (up 5.1 percent to $281.9 billion), and food and live animals (up 23 percent to $169.03 million).
Despite the lackluster imports number, the government is keeping its target of a 12-percent growth in imports this year.
Officials said industry groups were still hopeful global demand would eventually pick up in the short term, which means improvement in both the country’s exports and imports in the second half of the year.
The NSO earlier reported that exports in the first five months of the year fell 6 percent year-on-year to $21.09 billion.
The government has set its export growth target for this year at 10 percent.
Despite the discouraging trade performance, the economy has managed to register a robust growth rate. Officials credited this to strong domestic demand and rising economic activities within the country that more than offset weak exports.
The Philippine economy grew by 7.8 percent year-on-year in the first quarter, boosting confidence that growth for the entire year will stay well within the official target of 6 to 7 percent.