MANILA –Total merchandise trade grew by 5 percent in October 2016, supported by growth in both imports and exports, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

Based on a report by the Philippine Statistics Authority, total trade grew to US$11.7 billion in October 2016, with imports growing by 5.9 percent and exports, 3.7 percent.

“Total trade was boosted by higher exports and imports to and from Asia and other major markets. For the year’s first ten months, it is good to note that total trade remains steady at 4.7 percent,” said Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia.

For October 2016, import payments grew to US$6.9 billion following increases in demand for capital goods (13.1%), consumer goods (16.6%), and mineral fuels and lubricants (22.3%).

Likewise, export earnings increased to US$4.8 billion on account of the strong performance of mineral products (15.1%) such as copper concentrates and chromium ore, and agro-based products (30.6%) like coconut oil, bananas, rubber and fish. Increased receipts recorded were from China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, the United States, the Netherlands, Mexico and France.

Along with the lifting of the Chinese ban on Philippine bananas and mangoes, Pernia said that during President Duterte’s state visit last October, government was able to close a US$100 million contract for fruit exports to China.

The potential is also huge for China-bound exports of high value crops such as mango, coconut, and dragon fruit, as well as that of fishery products, including lapu-lapu, crabs, shrimps, prawns and tuna.

“The country’s improving relationship with Russia will also spur growth in the exports sector, as Russia committed to import around US$2.5 billion worth of Philippine fruits, grains, and vegetables in the next twelve months,” he added.

Pernia said that he is hopeful about the global economy especially given the good jobs data in the US recently. Nonetheless, he says it is important for the Philippines to harness opportunities offered by the ASEAN bloc’s ties with China, Japan, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

“We must also maximize our bilateral ties with Japan and the European Free Trade Association, including Europe’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences. And aside from taking advantage of existing foreign trade agreements, Filipino exporters should also remain proactive in driving up product differentiation, innovation, and diversification especially that there will be stronger integration in the ASEAN region soon,” he added.