INVESTMENTS approved by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) for the first seven months declined by almost 30% as companies turned more cautious amid a coronavirus crisis.

Approved investments covering 164 projects from January to July fell 27% to P52 billion compared to the same period last year, PEZA said in a press release on Monday.

PEZA, the second-biggest contributor to investment pledges after the Board of Investments (BoI), said foreign direct investments slid by 26% to P36.26 billion, while local investments plunged by 63% to P15.75 billion.

Approved investments in the manufacturing sector increased by 24% to P23.34 billion. PEZA recorded P11.4 billion worth of investments in the outsourcing sector, 37% higher than last year.

The investment promotion agency also posted a 7% drop in exports to $24.81 billion (P1.2 trillion) in the first half. Employment fell by 3% to 1.47 million jobs.

In a statement, PEZA Director-General Charito B. Plaza attributed the lower investments to the pandemic that has “affected our economy badly.”

“Nevertheless, we at PEZA remain hopeful to bounce back from this,” she said.

“Even with the difficulties brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, PEZA continues to attract investors to the country and promote the creation of special economic zones especially in the countryside that will become economic drivers in every region,” she added.

Ms. Plaza last month said she expected investments for the full-year to shrink from last year’s P117.5 billion, which had declined by 16% from the year earlier.

Before the pandemic, PEZA was targeting 5-10% investment growth this year.

The PEZA board earlier in the lockdown rescheduled meetings due to restrictions and health risks at its offices. Even before the lockdown, PEZA said total approved investments slid by 5.85% in the first two months of the year.

To attract investments, the agency has been hosting virtual investor forums and promoting the development of economic zones in the countryside.

The BoI approved P645.3 billion in investments in the first half, mostly accounted for by a P530.8-billion airport project from San Miguel Aerocity, Inc.

Domestic investments under BoI jumped almost three times to P626.7 billion in the first half from a year earlier. In contrast, foreign investments plummeted by almost three-quarters to P18.6 billion. — Jenina P. Ibañez