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Philippines - Economy (Notes)

Since the end of World War II, the Philippine economy has had a mixed history of growth and development. Over the years, the Philippines has gone from being one of the richest countries in Asia (following Japan) to being one of the poorest. Growth immediately after the war was rapid, but slowed over time. A severe recession in 1984-85 saw the economy shrink by more than 10%, and perceptions of political instability during the Aquino administration further dampened economic activity. During his administration, President Ramos introduced a broad range of economic reforms and initiatives designed to spur business growth and foreign investment. As a result, the Philippines saw a period of higher growth, but the Asian financial crisis triggered in 1997 slowed economic development in the Philippines once again. President Estrada managed to continue some of the reforms begun by the Ramos administration. Important laws to strengthen regulation and supervision of the banking system (General Banking Act) and securities markets (Securities Regulation Code), to liberalize foreign participation in the retail trade sector, and to promote and regulate electronic commerce were enacted during his abbreviated term. Despite occasional challenges to her presidency and resistance to pro-liberalization reforms by vested interests, President Arroyo has made considerable progress in restoring macroeconomic stability with the help of a well-regarded economic team. Nonetheless, long-term economic growth remains threatened by widespread poverty, crumbling infrastructure and education systems, and trade and investment barriers.

Important sectors of the Philippine economy include agriculture and industry, particularly food processing; textiles and garments; and electronics and automobile parts. Most industries are concentrated in the urban areas around metropolitan Manila. Mining also has great potential in the Philippines, which possesses significant reserves of chromite, nickel, and copper. Significant natural gas finds off the islands of Palawan have added to the country's substantial geothermal, hydro, and coal energy reserves.

Today's Economy
GDP grew by 5.4% in 2006, marking the first time since the 1970s with three consecutive years of growth over 5%. Historically, the Philippines has had difficulty sustaining growth at over 5%. The GDP increased by 6% in 2004, a 15-year high, and by 5% in 2005. Growth in 2006 was fueled by increased electronics exports, growth in the outsourcing industry, and a 20% increase in remittances from overseas workers to $12.8 billion and about 13% of the GDP. Still, it will take a higher, sustained economic growth path to make more appreciable progress in poverty alleviation given the Philippines' annual population growth rate of 1.764%--one of the highest in Asia.

Exports totaled $47.2 billion in 2006, relying heavily on electronics shipments for about two-thirds of export revenues. Although there has been some improvement over the years, local value added of electronics exports remains relatively low at about 30%. Net foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow rose to $2.35 billion in 2006, nearly double the 2005 level. The U.S. remains the Philippines' largest trading partner with over $16 billion in two-way trade, and the largest investor with $6 billion in assets. Increased export revenue, investment inflows, and foreign remittances have helped produce a current account balance of $4.9 billion in 2006.

Increased foreign capital inflows made the Philippine stock market among the top performers in East Asia during 2006. Similarly, the Philippine peso appreciated about 7.5% to the U.S. dollar, making it East Asia's best performing currency in 2005-2006. The Philippines maintained reserves of foreign exchange and gold of $22.97 billion.

The Philippines was less severely affected by the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s than its neighbors, aided in part by its high level of annual remittances from overseas workers, no sustained run-up in asset prices, and more moderate debt prior to the crises. Nonetheless, the Philippines' banking sector was not spared from high interest rates and non-performing asset (NPA) levels during the Asian financial crisis and its aftermath. Increases in minimum capitalization requirements, increasing loan-loss provisions, and generally healthy capital-adequacy ratios have helped temper systemic risk. The Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) Act of January 2003, which provides time-bound fiscal and regulatory incentives to encourage the sale to private asset management companies, has helped to reduce banks' portfolios of non-performing assets. Under the SPV, universal and commercial banks were able to reduce their NPAs by 18% in 2006. Circumstances surrounding bank closures continue to highlight remaining impediments to more effective bank supervision and timely intervention--including stringent bank secrecy laws, obstacles preventing bank regulators from examining banks at will, and inadequate legal protection for Central Bank officials and examiners.

The government faces another important challenge in addressing threats to the long-term viability of state-run pension funds. The monetary authority's adoption since January 2002 of an inflation-targeting framework has enhanced transparency in the conduct of monetary policy. The inflation rate averaged 6.2% in 2006, down from 7.6% in 2005. Likewise, the government--which has targeted lower fiscal deficits since 2003 toward balancing the budget before the end of President Arroyo's term--contained the full-year 2006 budget deficit to 1% of GDP. However, the current 14.3% tax-to-GDP ratio remains well below the 17% peak ratio achieved in 1997.

The Aquino and Ramos administrations opened up the relatively closed Philippine economy and provided a firmer base for sustainable economic growth. After a slow start, President Estrada and his cabinet continued with, and expanded, liberalization and market-based policies and reforms. Efforts to reform the constitution to encourage foreign investment, particularly foreign ownership of land, were abandoned amidst nationalist opposition. Initial optimism about prospects for economic reform also had dimmed amid concerns of governmental corruption. Scandals involving the Philippine Stock Exchange, and the President's close ties to certain businessmen, shook the confidence of investors and the business community and ultimately led to successful efforts to impeach and remove President Estrada.

The Arroyo administration enacted an anti-money laundering law in September 2001 and followed through with amendments in March 2003 to address remaining legal concerns posed by the OECD Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The FATF removed the Philippines from its list of Non-Cooperating Countries and Territories in February 2005, noting the significant progress made to remedy concerns and deficiencies identified by the FATF to improve implementation. The Egmont Group, the international network of financial intelligence units, admitted the Philippines to its membership in June 2005.

Although encountering implementation hitches, the Arroyo administration also enacted legislation in 2001 to rationalize the electric power sector and privatize the government's debt-saddled National Power Corporation (NPC). The government has achieved some success in establishing an independent regulatory system for electricity pricing that will benefit NPC finances. In addition to the Special Purpose Vehicle law, President Arroyo also signed into law in 2003 a priority initiative to reform the government procurement system (the Government Procurement Reform Act). During the first quarter of 2004, she signed into law legislation to rationalize and plug leakages in the Philippines' convoluted documentary stamp tax system and encourage secondary trading of financial instruments, as well as legislation (the Securitization Act) towards establishing the necessary infrastructure and market environment for a wide range of asset-backed securities. She also signed legislation to institutionalize Alternative Dispute Resolution for civil cases to help address the problem of overburdened court dockets.

Notwithstanding a number of favorable policy developments, the Philippine economy continues to juggle extremely limited financial resources while attempting to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding population and to address intensifying demands for the current administration to deliver on its anti-poverty promises. Over 80% of the government budget is devoted to non-discretionary expenses (i.e., debt service, government salaries and benefits, and legally-mandated revenue transfers to local government units). The current high level of government debt, the substantial share of foreign obligations, the emerging risks posed by contingent liabilities (particularly those of the government's debt-saddled NPC), and the worrisome deterioration in the tax collection performance from the 1997 peak (still low by regional standards) have increased the country's vulnerability to severe external and domestic shocks. More recent reforms include laws increasing excise taxes on tobacco and liquor products and establishing a system of rewards and penalties in revenue collection agencies. An amended Value Added Tax (VAT) law, implemented in November 2005, reduced VAT exemptions and increased the VAT rate from 10% to 12%. This VAT reform boosted 2006 tax revenue by 22%, and, along with higher export receipts and the surge in remittances from overseas workers, helped bring the budget deficit under control.

The U.S. Trade Representative removed the Philippines from its Special 301 Priority Watchlist in 2006, reflecting improvement in its enforcement of intellectual property rights protection. Potential foreign investors, as well as tourists, continue to be concerned about law and order, inadequate infrastructure, and governance issues. While trade liberalization presents significant opportunities, intensifying global competition and the emergence of low-wage export economies also pose challenges. Competition from other Southeast Asian countries and from China for investment underlines the need for sustained progress on structural reforms to remove bottlenecks to growth, to lower costs of doing business, and to promote good public and private sector governance. The government has been working to reinvigorate its anti-corruption drive, and the Office of the Ombudsman has reported improved conviction rates. Nevertheless, the Philippines will need to do more to improve international perception of its anti-corruption campaign--an effort that will require strong political will and significantly greater financial and human resources.

Agriculture and Forestry
Arable farmland comprises more than 40% of the total land area. Although the Philippines is rich in agricultural potential, inadequate infrastructure, lack of financing, and government policies have limited productivity gains. Philippine farms produce food crops for domestic consumption and cash crops for export. The agricultural sector employs nearly 37% of the work force but provides less than one-fifth of GDP.

Decades of uncontrolled logging and slash-and-burn agriculture in marginal upland areas have stripped forests, with critical implications for the ecological balance. The government has instituted conservation programs, but deforestation remains a severe problem.

With its 7,107 islands, the Philippines has a very diverse range of fishing areas. Notwithstanding good prospects for the agriculture subsector, the marine fishing industry continues to face a bleak future due to destructive fishing methods, a lack of funds, and inadequate government support.

Agriculture generally suffers from low productivity, low economies of scale, and inadequate infrastructure support. Agricultural output fell in 1997 and 1998 due to an El Niņo-related drought but increased by 6.0% in 1999 (over 1998's low base). Growth reverted to more normal rates in 2000 (4.0%) and 2001 (3.7%). Agricultural output (affected by another, albeit milder, dry spell) expanded by 3.9% year-on-year in 2002 and 3.2% in 2003. Agricultural output increased by 5.1% in real terms during 2004 but stagnated to 2.24% in 2005 due to drought and intermittent weather disturbances. Despite the adverse affects of successive and very strong typhoons in the last four months of 2006, the overall annual farm output expanded by 3.9%.

Industrial production is centered on the processing and assembly operations of the following: food, beverages, tobacco, rubber products, textiles, clothing and footwear, pharmaceuticals, paints, plywood and veneer, paper and paper products, small appliances, and electronics. Heavier industries are dominated by the production of cement, glass, industrial chemicals, fertilizers, iron and steel, and refined petroleum products.

The industrial sector is concentrated in urban areas, especially in the metropolitan Manila region, and has only weak linkages to the rural economy. Inadequate infrastructure, transportation, and communication have so far inhibited faster industrial growth, although significant strides have been made in addressing the last of these elements.

The Philippines is one of the world's most highly mineralized countries, with untapped mineral wealth estimated at more than $840 billion. Philippine copper, gold, and chromite deposits are among the largest in the world. Other important minerals include nickel, silver, coal, gypsum, and sulfur. The Philippines also has significant deposits of clay, limestone, marble, silica, and phosphate. The discovery of natural gas reserves off Palawan has been brought on-line to generate electricity.

Despite its rich mineral deposits, the Philippine mining industry is just a fraction of what it was in the 1970s and 1980s when the country ranked among the ten leading gold and copper producers worldwide. Low metal prices, high production costs, and lack of investment in infrastructure have contributed to the industry's overall decline. A December 2004 Supreme Court decision upheld the constitutionality of the 1995 Mining Act, thereby allowing up to 100% foreign-owned companies to invest in large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, oil, and gas.

Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - Philippine Peso Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.

Facts at a Glance
Current Time
Ranking Positions
Philippine Peso Exchange Rates

Notes and Commentary
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.

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