MERCHANDISE imports last January surged 30 percent, the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) said.

In its website, Neda said merchandise imports in January amounted to $4.3 billion, an increase of 30.3 percent from the same month last year. It is 9.5 percent higher than the figure in December. The figures were based on preliminary reports released by the National Statistics Office (NSO).

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Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Augusto Santos said the surge of imports was spurred by growth in shipment of capital goods, mineral fuels and lubricants as well as consumer goods.

The faster recovery of merchandise imports relative to merchandise exports resulted in a trade deficit of $682 million in the first month of the year, Neda said.

Among import items, mineral fuels and lubricants posted the highest growth as these surged by 96.2 percent in January compared to the same month in 2009.

Santos said the increase in imports of mineral fuels and lubricants was partially due to price effects as Dubai oil price went up by 73.4 percent from January last year to an average of $76.69 per barrel in January this year.

Consumer goods

Capital goods imports, Neda said, also increased by 51.5 percent year-on-year. Aircraft, ships and boats grew by 127.5 percent; land transport equipment by 69.9 percent, and telecommunication equipment and electrical machinery by 63.1 percent.

Importation of consumer goods also increased by 70.6 percent. This was supported by both durable goods, which posted a 30.2 percent hike, and non-durable goods, which went up 109.2 percent.

Rice imports were among the non-durable goods that posted the highest growth, at 153,599.2 percent. This was due to importations by the National Food Authority (NFA) as a mitigating measure for the prolonged dry spell.

The top five import sources in January this year include the United States, which emerged as the biggest source of Philippine imports with a share of 13.4 percent since May last year. Following the US were Singapore at 12.7 percent, Japan at 11.5 percent, China at 8.6 percent and Taiwan at 7.3 percent.

Neda said telecommunication equipment and electrical machinery, raw materials for electronic manufactures and various mineral fuels and lubricants comprised 44.3 percent of the total payments to the top five import sources in January.

Neda said cargoes from the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) covered 30.8 percent of the total merchandise imports in January.

“The rise in Philippine imports mirrored development in East and Southeast Asia, as the countries in the region also posted significant double-digit growth rates, except for Japan with only 9.1 percent,” Santos said.

Neda said the Development Budget Coordinating Committee’s emerging estimate for imports growth this year is at 13 to 15 percent.