THE Philippines' trade balance in March this year hit its widest deficit in three months, according to the preliminary Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data released on Friday.

Imports saw a year-on-year uptick of 27.7 percent to $12.17 billion, while exports soared by 5.9 percent to $7.17 billion.

As a result, the trade shortfall in March reached $5 billion, the highest level since December of the previous year, when it stood at $5.27 billion. It's also bigger than the $2.75-billion gap from a year ago.

The year-to-date deficit is now $13.89 billion, up 66.5 percent from the shortfall of $8.34 billion in January-March 2021.

"The annual increment of imported goods in March 2022 was due to the increase in all of the top 10 major commodity groups, which was led by medicinal and pharmaceutical products with 152.5-percent annual increase," the PSA noted.

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Mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials were second, with a 148-percent yearly acceleration, and cereals and cereal preparations were third, with a 35.9-percent annual pick up.

In March 2022, China was the country's largest source of imported products, accounting for $2.13 billion or 17.5 percent of total imports. Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and the United States round out the top five biggest import trading partners of the country.

"Of the top 10 major commodity groups, four recorded annual increases in terms of the value of exports, which was led by coconut oil [63.9 percent]," the agency added in the meantime.

Gold (40 percent) and other mineral products (19.7 percent) were ranked second and third, respectively.

Exports to China had the highest value of $1.18 billion, accounting for 16.5 percent of overall outbound shipments for the month. The United States, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore were next.

Michael Ricafort, chief economist at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., tracked the latest Philippine trade performance to a variety of domestic and external factors.

These include the economy's continued reopening toward greater normalcy, with the alert level in Metro Manila and other places lowered to the lowest, as well as the recent boost in global trade amid higher immunization.

He went on to say that some global supply chain disruptions since the pandemic began in 2020 provided opportunities for some Philippine exporters to sell products with limited supply, such as semiconductors; and that Russia's invasion of Ukraine resulted in a further increase in global commodity prices, which inflated both the value of exports and imports.