After reconstruction following World War II, the Philippines was one of the richest countries in Asia. Growth slowed however, as years of economic mismanagement and political volatility during the Marcos regime contributed to economic stagnation. Political instability during the Corazon Aquino administration further dampened economic activity.
During the 1990s, the Philippine Government introduced a broad range of reforms designed to spur growth and attract foreign investment. As a result, the Philippines saw a period of economic expansion, although the Asian financial crisis in 1997 slowed growth once again.
Despite challenges to her presidency and resistance to reforms by vested interests, the Arroyo administration made considerable progress in restoring macroeconomic stability. The Benigno S. Aquino administration has assembled a strong economic team and has focused on combating corruption and focused spending on education, health and other social services. It is addressing the country’s infrastructure shortcomings through a Public-Private Partnership infrastructure initiative. Nonetheless, long-term economic growth remains threatened by by these shortcomings, as well as by barriers to trade and investment.
The service sector contributes more than half of overall Philippine economic output, followed by industry (about a third), and agriculture (less than 20%). Important industries include food processing; textiles and garments; electronics and automobile parts; and business process outsourcing. Most industries are concentrated in areas around metropolitan Manila. Mining has great potential in the Philippines, which possesses significant reserves of chromate, nickel, and copper. Significant offshore hydrocarbon finds have added to the country's substantial geothermal, hydro, and coal energy reserves.
The Philippine economy proved comparatively well-equipped to weather the recent global financial crisis, partly as a result of the efforts to control the fiscal deficit, bring down debt ratios, and adopt internationally-accepted banking sector capital adequacy standards. The Philippine banking sector--which makes up 80% of total financial system resources--had limited direct exposure to distressed financial institutions overseas, while conservative regulatory policies, including the prohibition of investments in structured products, shielded the insurance sector.
After slowing to 3.8% growth during 2008, and sputtering to 1.1% during 2009, real year-on-year GDP growth rebounded to 7.6% during 2010, a 34-year high, fueled in part by election-related spending, optimism over the peaceful transition to a new government, and an accommodating monetary policy. Growth slowed in 2011 and is likely to be in the 3.5 to 4% range. Overseas workers’ remittances are on track for an 8% annual growth rate, and, continue to comprise roughly 10% of GDP. Annual GDP growth averaged 4.6% over the past decade, but it will take a higher, sustained economic growth path--at least 7%-8% per year by most estimates--to make progress in poverty alleviation given the Philippines' annual population growth rate of 2.04%, one of the highest in Asia. The portion of the population living below the national poverty line increased from 24.9% to 26.5% between 2003 and 2009, equivalent to an additional 3.3 million poor Filipinos.
The Philippines’ business process outsourcing (BPO) industry currently accounts for about 15% of the global outsourcing market and has been the fastest-growing segment of the Philippine economy. Although industry revenues slowed from 40% growth during 2006 and 2007, the BPO sector exhibited resilience amid the global financial turmoil, generating more than $6 billion in revenues in 2008 (up 26%) and $7.2 billion in 2009. BPO revenues rose 26% to nearly $9 billion in 2010, and will likely surpass 20% growth in 2011. The sector created about 100,000 new jobs in 2011, bringing total BPO employment to about600,000.
Latest government data shows that the balance of payments surplus is at $10.29 billion as of November 2011, 21% down from $13.08 billion in the same period in 2010. Merchandise exports--which rely heavily on electronics shipments for more than 45% of sales—dropped by 19.4% as of November 2011 year-on-year comparison; electronics industry projects its export revenues to also drop by as much as 25% in 2011 from $1.706 billion record in 2010 due to slow industrial spending of some Western economies. Although there has been some improvement over the years, the local value added of electronics exports remains relatively low.
The Philippine stock market index ended 2011 up 4% after gaining 63% in 2009 and 38% in 2010. The Philippine peso closed 2010 up 5.1% year-on-year. From $44.2 billion as of end-2009, gross international reserves rose to a new record high of nearly $62.4 billion as of end-2010, adequate for nearly 10 months of goods and services imports and equivalent to 5.5 times foreign debts maturing over the next 12 months.
Although still relatively high, the debt of the national government has declined to under 56% of GDP (from a 2004 peak of 78% of GDP); and the consolidated public sector debt has declined to about 75% of GDP (from a 2003 peak of 118% of GDP). The national government worked to reduce its fiscal deficits for 5 consecutive years to 0.2% of GDP in 2007 and had hoped to balance the budget in 2008 but opted instead for measured deficit spending to help stimulate the economy and temper the adverse impact of global external shocks on the already high number of Filipinos struggling with poverty. The national government ended 2008 and 2009 with deficits equivalent to 0.9% and 3.9% of GDP, respectively. The deficit-to-GDP ratio declined to 3.7% of GDP in 2010, with a 1.7% deficit likely for 2011, Further reforms are needed to ease fiscal pressures from large losses being sustained by a number of government-owned firms and to control and manage contingent liabilities. The national government's tax-to-GDP ratio increased from 13% in 2005 to 14.3% in 2006 after new tax measures went into effect; it declined and stagnated at 14% in 2007 and 2008, however, and declined further to 12.8% in 2009 and 2010, low relative to historical performance (i.e., 1997’s 17% peak ratio) and regional standards. The passage of revenue-eroding measures, partly to temper the impact on incomes of the global financial crisis, exacerbated weaknesses in revenue administration. The government has used privatization receipts to reduce shortfalls in targeted tax collections, but this has not been a sustainable revenue source.
The Philippine Congress enacted an anti-money laundering law in September 2001 and followed through with amendments in March 2003 to address legal concerns posed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Egmont Group, the international network of financial intelligence units, admitted the Philippines to its membership in June 2005. The FATF Asia Pacific Group conducted a comprehensive peer review of the Philippines in September 2008. Some of the more important concerns include the exclusion of casinos from the list of covered institutions, the non-criminalization of terrorist financing as a stand-alone crime, and 2008 court rulings that inhibit and complicate investigations of fraud and corruption by prohibiting ex-parte inquiries regarding suspicious accounts. Legislation to address these deficiencies is pending in the Philippine Congress, and has been designated “urgent” by the Aquino administration, which will accelerate its movement through the Congress. The Philippines has taken steps to adopt Internationally Agreed Tax Standards (IATS) and has enacted a law that allows and provides a framework for the exchange of tax-related information. In September 2010, as a result, the OECD upgraded the Philippines to its tax "white list."
A decade after the enactment of legislation to rationalize the electric power sector, the state-owned transmission company (Transco) has been privatized and 92% of total generating assets in Luzon and the Visayas have been sold. This has triggered the opening of access to retail competition in the electric power sector. What remains for privatization is to complete the transfer of contracts of the National Power Corporation’s (NPC) Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to private IPP administrators. NPC has transferred about two-thirds of these contracts to date but has postponed further action indefinitely due to concerns about the potential adverse effect on energy supply. Electricity is still relatively expensive in the Philippines, and the central and southern regions still suffer from inadequate and unreliable generating capacity. A Renewable Energy Act was passed in 2008 and provides additional incentives for investment in this sector as a means of ensuring reliable electricity supply and bringing down the cost of power. No new renewable energy investments have been implemented thus far under the act pending consultations on, and approval of, a Feed-in Tariff System (FITS), a major incentive mechanism that aims to accelerate renewable energy investments, and the results of a grid impact study.
The U.S. Trade Representative retained the Philippines on its Special 301 Watch List for 2011. The report lauded recently passed legislation aimed at illegal video recording in movie theaters and Philippine efforts to enforce bans on pirated and counterfeit goods. It, however, lamented inherent weaknesses within the judiciary system that lead to limited enforcement of IPR laws.
Potential foreign investors, as well as tourists, remain concerned about the rule of law, inadequate infrastructure, policy and regulatory instability, and governance issues. While trade liberalization presents significant opportunities, intensifying competition and the emergence of powerful regional economies also pose challenges. Competition from other economies for investment underlines the need for sustained progress on structural reforms to remove bottlenecks to growth, lower costs of doing business, combat corruption and promote good public and private sector governance.
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 about one-third of the work force but contributes less than a 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. Although the government has instituted conservation programs, deforestation remains a severe problem.
With its 7,107 islands, the Philippines owns a diverse range of fishing areas. Notwithstanding good prospects for marine fisheries, the industry continues to face a difficult 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. The sector barely grew in real terms during 2009, dragged down by the adverse effects of successive strong typhoons on the crops sector (which contributes over 45% of total agricultural production). Agricultural output declined by 0.5% during 2010 due to the adverse effects of drought during the first 9 months of the year, but grew by 4.5% during the first nine months of 2011.
Industrial production is centered on the processing and assembly operations of the following: food, beverages, tobacco, rubber and plastic products, textiles and textile products, clothing and footwear, leather products, pharmaceuticals, paints, wood and wood products, paper and paper products, printing and publishing, furniture and fixtures, small appliances, and electronics. Heavier industries are dominated by the production of cement, glass and glass products, industrial chemicals, fertilizers, iron and steel, fabricated metal products, mineral products, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, and refined petroleum products. Newer industries, particularly production of semiconductors and other intermediate goods for incorporation into consumer electronics are important components of Philippine exports and are located in special export processing zones.
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 chromate 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. Natural gas reserves discovered off Palawan have 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 10 leading gold and copper producers worldwide. Low metal prices, high production costs, and lack of investment in infrastructure 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. Some local government units have enacted mining bans in their territories, citing concerns over environmental degradation, unequal distribution of tax revenue, unemployment caused by displacement of small-scale miners, and marginalization of Indigenous People.
Sources:CIA World Factbook (January 2012)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( January 2012)