By Jenina P. Ibañez, Senior Reporter

PHILIPPINE EXPORTS could grow by 12.8% this year after a coronavirus pandemic-related dip in 2020, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Exports have been recovering as demand rebounds from countries reopening their economies, though slowed by global supply chain bottlenecks and container shortages.

“The outlook for the Philippines’ 2021 and 2022 growth looks optimistic,” UNESCAP Economic Affairs Officer Witada Anukoonwattaka said in an e-mail on Dec. 16.

“After an initial COVID-induced dip in 2020 for both imports and exports, in 2021, the volume for exports and imports by the Philippines is forecasted to rise by 12.8% and 17.2% respectively.”

UNESCAP in a November report said trade growth in Southeast Asia had been positive this year, though less pronounced than others in the larger region due to Delta variant outbreaks.

Philippine exports fell last year as lockdowns meant to curb the coronavirus hampered business and consumer activity.

In the 10 months to October this year, exported goods rose by 16.1% year on year, a reversal of the 12.5% decline a year earlier.

This recovery was faster than initially anticipated. Economic managers earlier this month raised the export growth outlook for 2021 to 16% from 10% projected in July.

Ms. Anukoonwattaka said the shift to digitalization during the pandemic would probably intensify and redefine trade in services in the medium and long terms.

“In this context, the Philippines, as an important exporter of IT-related business services, tend to be among countries with a high potential to enjoy the benefit of accelerated digitalization brought by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Business process outsourcing revenues rose by 1.4% after the pandemic disrupted operations last year, the industry group said.

The Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines has said it expects a “decent return to growth” this year as it cited the need for funding to boost its upskilling program to meet the industry’s digital demands.

The UNESCAP last month said the recovery of trade in commercial services was fragile this year as global travel remained below pre-pandemic levels.

“Going into 2022, global and regional services trade are expected to continue recovering slowly and heterogeneously across sectors,” it said.

“While transport, other business services and ICT are anticipated to flourish, travel services will experience a weak recovery as border crossing remains more difficult than in pre-pandemic times,” it added.