Restrictions drag cargo rebound

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    3 years to wait. PPA says it would be challenging to return to the pre-pandemic traffic volume if restrictions on the movement of cargo are not lifted. (DOTr photo)

    State-owned Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) is optimistic that cargo traffic volume this year will increase by 7 percent versus last year, but a return to pre-pandemic levels is yet to be seen in the next three years.

    At the Department of Transportation’s virtual press briefing for the maritime sector, Jay Santiago, PPA general manager, said the agency expects this year’s cargo traffic growth to be consistent with the forecast of the National Economic and Development Authority and the economic cluster in terms of economic growth this year.

    Improvement in cargo traffic will depend on how government will ease the limitations in the movement of people given the travel restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

    Santiago said with the vaccination rollout, another 1 to 3 percent growth in cargo volume is expected for 2022 and 2023.

    He added it would be challenging to return to the pre-pandemic traffic volume if the easing of the restriction on the movement of people and cargo has yet to be resolved.

    Last year, cargo volume fell by 14 percent to 230 million metric tons (MMT) from 266.4 MMT in 2019, due to the slowdown in local and foreign trade amid the coronavirus pandemic, PPA data showed.

    Foreign cargo throughput handled last year dropped 10 percent to 150.5 MMT from 166.9 MMT in 2019. Domestic cargo throughput declined by 24 percent to 79.3 MMT from 104.4 MMT in 2019.

    Container traffic was down by 14 percent to 6.76 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in 2020 from 7.87 million TEUs in 2019, as both local and domestic container traffic reported a decline of 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

    Passenger volume was also severely affected by the pandemic, plunging 70 percent to 24.9 million in 2020 from 83.7 million passengers carried in 2019 due to the community quarantine in place in key provinces in the country.

    Passenger traffic has improved since the lockdown imposed last March 2020, from 1.7 million passengers in the first quarter to 3 million in the third quarter and 3.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2020.