Manila port gridlock constricts economy

Photo via

Photo via

via – Philippine furniture maker Betiscrafts, Inc. should have delivered a shipment of custom-made chairs to Middle East customers last month.

But a cargo from China of imported fabric needed for the upholstery has been held up by severe congestion at Manila’s main port, where containers have piled up since February when a daytime ban on trucks plying the city roads came into effect.

Worried about the hit to the economy, the government intervened on Sept. 13 to end the seven-month long ban, although the move may have come too late for many companies that ship to Western markets for the critical Christmas season.

Electronics manufacturers, garment makers and food producers are facing delays and rising costs due to the backlog at the choked port, which handles more than 80% of foreign trade, holding back growth in Southeast Asia’s fifth-largest economy.

“I never expected that the situation will turn as bad as this,” Myrna Bituin, owner of Betiscrafts, sighed.

“We are at a loss. We are under a lot of stress. I could not deliver, and if I don’t deliver then my clients abroad will also lose business.”

The port woes embody the huge challenges still facing President Benigno S. C. Aquino III to modernize the country’s dilapidated roads, ports and airports that are constraining growth.

“The port congestion has resulted in a stack of problems — stuck cargo, rising costs of transporting products by truck, as well as widespread traffic jams brought about by trucks queuing to collect cargo,” the president said in what was billed as an agenda-setting speech earlier this month.

Annual growth in the second quarter quickened to 6.4%, the fastest in Asia after China, but Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo said this month the economy could have clocked 7% growth if not for the port problems.

“Congestion is complex and requires strategic action in many different directions. Like most problems, it took a short time to occur but it is going to take a long time to solve,” said Christian R. Gonzalez, head of the Asia-Pacific Region at International Container Terminal Services, Inc.

The port gridlock was an unintended consequence of a local government plan to improve traffic and reduce pollution in the City of Manila — the truck ban on the city’s roads lasted for 16 hours daily from 5 a.m.

In a sign of the impact, imports fell in annual terms in May and June, and exports slowed in July.

With the backlog of 20,000 containers expected to take months to clear, there are worries about the impact on exporters of electronics goods, the nation’s biggest foreign exchange earner after remittances from overseas workers.

On Thursday, data showed electronics imports in July posted the steepest drop in more than two years. The imports include raw materials that are re-exported after value-addition.

Overall imports in July were flat from a year earlier, but shipments of raw materials and intermediate goods contracted by 12.5%.

The Philippine peso slumped to a five-month low of 44.675 per dollar on the data.

The port congestion has also seen some firms reducing hours or putting workers on unpaid leave, pointing to weakness in production, said Sergio Ortiz-Luis, Jr., president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation.

The government is worried too. Tax collections in August came in $339 million below target, and the main tax agency blamed the supply-chain mess for crimping corporate profits.


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