By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

THE EXPORT INDUSTRY is asking for more funding for government promotion and product development initiatives to back the sector’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

George T. Barcelon, the newly appointed chairman of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (Philexport), said the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) needs bigger funding to support such activities.

“The (DTI) budget is so small,” he said in a phone interview on Monday. The DTI and its attached agencies were allocated around P21 billion from the national budget for 2021.

Mr. Barcelon said the Trade department can assist product development and use data to identify which sectors to promote. 

“(DTI should) really encourage the domestic manufacturers. Manufacturers making products for the domestic market, they can always export their products,” Mr. Barcelon said. “(They should) encourage our various sectors to join international export shows.”

Merchandise exports in March jumped 31.6% to $6.68 billion compared with the same month last year, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed. Export growth that month was the fastest in over a decade, or since the 46.8% growth in September 2010.

This hints at some improvement after goods exports fell 10.1% to $63.8 billion in 2020.

Mr. Barcelon said the country continues to lag behind other Southeast Asian economies.

“We think that we have the advantage in terms of creativity, innovation, but we need to support our exporters,” he said.

Financing for smaller exporters continues to be a challenge, he said.

Applications for loans from the Small Business Corp. (SB Corp.) have been sluggish, as the government agency tightened lending standards. SB Corp. has been given additional funds to assist businesses affected by the pandemic.

Fewer small businesses have been applying for the loans amid low business confidence, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said.

Mr. Barcelon said it is difficult for the Philippines to penetrate the export market as it competes against Thailand, Indonesia, China, and Cambodia.

“But we do have a name: Filipino products — houseware, house decor. But ang problema, sa competitive na presyo nahihirapan tayo (Our problem is we have difficulty in pricing our products competitively),” Mr. Barcelon said. “It’s a matter of cost of doing business.”

Issues surrounding the export sector are varied, ranging from bureaucratic bottlenecks to employee training, he said.

In the meantime, he said that the DTI can select agriculture and manufacturing products to promote to specific markets.

“The (economies of) developed countries are just starting to pick up, so we should be able to help our exporters to rebound.”