MANILA, Philippines - Merchandise imports rose 1.6% in May from a year ago, their slowest growth in 19 months, the government reported Tuesday.
Data from the National Statistics Office showed imports rose to just$4.888 billion in May from $4.811 billion in the same month of 2010.
May's growth was down from 20.3% in April, and was significantly below the 33% growth registered in May 2010. It was the first single-digit increase since June last year, and the slowest since October 2009, when imports fell 16.8%.
However, electronics, the country's main import item, climbed 11.2% in May from a year ago to $1.7 billion. They were flat from April.
For the first five months of the year, merchandise imports rose 12.8% to $46.626 billion.
The trade deficit in May was $780 million, bringing the deficit from January to May to $5.37 billion.
US was the country's biggest import source, accounting for 13.5% or $658.77 billion of the total bill.
China was the second-biggest ($518.98 million), followed by Japan ($475.83 million), Singapore ($437.03 million), and Korea ($355.80 million).
The government has forecast exports to climb between 9% and 10% this year and 12% next year. Imports are expected to rise 17% to 18% in 2011 and 18% in 2012. Exports grew 34% and imports 27% in 2010.
Apart from electronic parts and fuel, the Philippines' other top imports are cereals such as rice, electrical and industrial machinery, transport equipment, iron, steel and metal scraps. - With a report from Reuters