THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it remains confident of hitting its medium-term export target amid ongoing efforts to address bottlenecks hindering growth.

“We remain confident that we are still on track in meeting our total export targets to a range of $122 billion to 130 billion by 2022. We expect a positive growth trajectory to set in the subsequent quarters,” Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said in a statement Thursday. He was referring to targets contained in the 2018 to 2022 Export Development Plan drafted by the interagency Export Development Council (EDC) which the DTI chairs.

The EDC revised 2019 projections for both merchandise and services exports, which had an initial forecast of single-digit and double-digit growth, respectively, to “low single-digit growth” for both categories.

The Philippine Statistics Authority’s preliminary data show that merchandise exports declined 2.5% year on year in the first quarter.

Although Mr. Lopez noted that the global slowdown, partly triggered by the United States-China trade war, is to blame for the widening trade gap, he said major exporters “are hampered by lingering issues they encounter on costs and inefficiencies in transport and logistics.”

“This continues to slow down the turnaround time in the production and shipments of exporters,” Mr. Lopez said.

He also noted the lack of capacity to meet demand for certain products, citing the vulnerability of agricultural exports, particularly fresh and processed mangoes whose output was affected by the La Niña last year and El Niño this year.

Mr. Lopez also cited “the lingering issue of the policy concerning controlled and regulated chemicals, which hampers the turnaround time of our exporters from production to market.”

“As part of our action plan, we are prioritizing addressing the core issues above (i.e., supply, competitiveness, port operations/logistics, and infrastructure gaps with relevant government agencies consistent with the Philippine Export Development Plan,” Mr. Lopez said.

Among the priority sectors for the DTI are office equipment, consumer electronics, motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts, high-value coconut products, forest products, and wearables. In services the focus is on audiovisual/creative industries, health care information management systems, software development, and tourism-related services.

The DTI said it continues to pursue initiatives that will increase exports, including maximizing opportunities in the ASEAN and other countries as well as promoting the use of preferential trade arrangements with the US and European Union.

March exports totaled $5.876 billion, up from $5.222 billion in February but down from the $6.024 billion in March 2018.

The March performance extended the decline in exports to four months. — Janina C. Lim