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PCCI chief voices ‘cautiousoptimism’ on growth outlook

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Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President George T. Barcelon said he is “cautiously optimistic” on the economic outlook of the country for this year, noting that high food prices could “stunt” business.

While he expects the Philippine economy to “sustain a healthy pace” in the first half of 2023, Barcelon said high food prices is an “issue of concern” that the government should immediately address.

“Issue of concern is for the government to find solutions on high food prices which have heightened the clamor for big wage adjustments that could lead to even higher inflation,” Barcelon said in a Viber message sent to reporters on Monday.

He said this is a “vicious cycle” that could stunt business and “negatively impact” the competitiveness of the export sector. As such, Barcelon said, “the outlook on both job creation and sustainability for the year may encounter headwinds.”

One of the measures that could ease food prices, he said, is the “legitimate importation” of onion, a key ingredient used in making Filipino dishes. Barclon made the statement after the prices of onions skyrocketed to as much as P700 per kilogram last month.

“I think the [Department of Trade and Industry] DTI should consider the trade aspect of the onion issue. The output of our farmers is limited and cannot meet market demand especially during  the holiday season. Moving forward, legitimate importation should be allowed,” Barcelon told the BusinessMirror in a Viber message on Monday.

He said allowing importation would reduce prices and make the commodity more affordable. It would also be favorable to traders who have no cold storage facilities.

“Food prices have a big impact on inflation and have to be dealt with. If DTI were to allow importation with quantifiable restriction, traders with no cold storage would take the opportunity to make certain reasonable profits,” he added.

In a statement on December 31, 2022, the Trade department said it has fielded its price monitoring teams to assist the Department of Agriculture (DA) in checking the suggested retail prices (SRP) of red onions in public wet markets in the National Capital Region.

In an administrative circular it issued on December 29, 2022, the DA set the SRP of red onions at P250 per kg (13-15 pieces).  The circular was in effect until the first week of January, subject to another stakeholders’ consultation.

Agriculture Assistant Secretary Rex Estoperez said on Sunday there is a proposal to import 22,000 metric tons of onion to boost domestic supply and pull down retail prices. Estoperez said the proposed import program would only run until the first week of February to ensure that shipments would not arrive during the peak harvest season.

Growth drivers

Meanwhile, Barcelon said the decline in Covid-19 cases and the reopening of schools will help boost the country’s economic growth

“Government’s plans to continue infrastructure spending and massive housing projects for the homeless will certainly give impetus to our economy,” he added.

Barcelon also hailed the “travel and leisure” business as it is exhibiting a strong comeback. In fact, he said, the recent trip of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has “achieved China’s support of our tourism and agricultural sectors.”

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