THE Department of Finance (DoF) said it approved P23.4 billion worth of import tax and duty exemptions in 2021, close to the pre-pandemic total, after the approval of exemptions for coronavirus vaccine shipments.

The DoF approved 254 coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) tax exemptions valued at P8.7 billion last year, it said in a statement on Saturday. This represents 37% or nearly two-fifths of the total import tax exemptions processed by the department’s revenue office.

The P23.4 billion in estimated total foregone revenue from imports in 2021 is close to the pre-pandemic total of P23.9 billion in 2019.

“However, this is primarily due to the foregone revenue attributable to imports of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as imports of items related to the COVID-19 response,” Finance Assistant Secretary Dakila Elteen Napao said.

The office also approved over 800 applications for value-added tax exemptions for COVID-19 medicine and medical devices. Total foregone revenue from these exemptions hit P382.1 million.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III has included COVID-19 vaccines in the revenue office’s express lane, making such shipments eligible for tax exemption processing within 24 hours, as against the usual three-day process. Filing fees for express lane applications have been waived for vaccines.

The department announced in February 2021 that the vaccines had been granted tax and duty exemptions.

The Bureau of Customs collected P645.77 billion in revenue in 2021, up 20% as import volumes gradually improved. The 2020 total had declined by 14% as the pandemic slowed down international trade. — Jenina P. Ibañez