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W

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - April 15, 2021 - 12:00am

Everybody loves a V-shaped recovery, a quick bounce back after the beating inflicted by the pandemic.

Everybody hates a W-shaped recovery, a double-dip recession where all the miseries of the first round appear more severe.

Because of the lockdown imposed the past two weeks and the stringent restrictions foreseen until the end of April, our economic managers concede that the growth we expect this year might have to be cut by 0.8 percent. That means the realistic growth target this year will be about 6 – not enough to fully recover what we lost from the -9.6 percent contraction we suffered in 2020. Oxford Economics downgraded our growth forecast from a generous 8 percent to 6.2 percent.

Full recovery to pre-Covid-19 levels will have to be moved back deep into 2022 or even 2023. That is assuming the pandemic subsides, the vaccines begin to build some sort of global herd immunity and jobs are recreated at a fast clip. The March-April lockdown we went through is expected to knock off a quarter of a million jobs in the NCR Plus area.

But wait, Secretary Carlito Galvez is now telling us to prepare for yet another surge possibly in the months of June and July. This virus is unrelenting.

The UK, after an impressive vaccination campaign, just emerged from yet another 97-day lockdown. India has become the new epicenter of the pandemic, tallying over 160,000 new cases a day. Much of Europe has returned to mobility restrictions.

It will be hard for any solitary economy to push its way to recovery unless the global environment is inclined to growth. Right now, it seems lockdowns will be recurrent. Supply chains will be beleaguered. Borders will remain closed.

Tourism, one of our economy’s strongest suits, will likely remain in the doldrums well into the next year. Our manufacturing is limping. Our services sector bears the brunt of the lockdown. Let’s not even talk of growing our exports.

In a word, our economic disposition remains fragile. Any serious surge in infections could push us into a double-dip recession.

A report by the US intelligence community, that the Trump administration tried to suppress, outlines a pretty dark forecast far into what we can see of the future. The report sees the stresses caused by the pandemic pushing some societies to fracture.

The pandemic, like everything else, unevenly distributes the misery. Imaginably, this will deepen polarization is societies and all the warped political choices that brings. Polarization could take a generation to heal.

In France, for instance, Emmanuel Macron leads the far-right leader Marine Le Pen by only three or four points. Ecuador chose a conservative banker to be president while in neighboring Peru, a leftwing activist leads ahead of a runoff vote.

We hope we do not fall into another cycle of political polarization – nor to another recessionary dip. One only compounds the other.

Fish

Our inflation rate remains at the higher end of the targeted range. Rising prices for pork, chicken and fish is driving the inflation rate.

Government is lowering tariff rates and encouraging importation to relieve pork supply shortages, even as domestic pork producers and their political allies are opposing this. Chicken and fish prices are due mainly to avoidable inefficiencies.

When new restrictions were imposed last month, the IATF was careful to exempt food deliveries to the metropolitan area. This is to avoid a repeat of the price spikes that happened last year when provincial borders were sealed indiscriminately.

It appears, however, that local governments magnify the logistics problems rather than reduce them. The recent dispute between fish traders and the Navotas local government illustrates this.

Fish traders called a press briefing a few days ago to condemn the Navotas local government’s refusal to release their stocks. This, they say, explains the sharp rise in fish prices in the metropolitan area. A large portion of the metropolitan area’s fish supply comes through the Navotas port.

The traders have also filed a complaint at the Anti-Red Tape Authority against Navotas Mayor Tobias Tiangco and the city’s Business Permit and Licensing Office (BPLO) for their refusal to release their fish stocks. The traders are forced to store their stocks of fish in cold storages in the Navota Fish Port. This adds to their costs and causes their stocks to deteriorate.

Apparently, in Navotas, a permit needs to be issued by the city’s BPLO before fish stocks could be transported to final buyers. The traders complain that the mayor and his officials in charge of the permitting process have not released the required documents despite many requests for them to do so.

They have approached the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority with their problem. The agency, like the traders, is at a loss about why the fish stocks are being hampered.

According to the traders, they have information that the order to keep the fish stocks in the cold storages comes directly from Mayor Tiangco. They suspect that the mayor may want his family’s fish stocks to be released first, taking advantage of higher fish prices in the market. In which case, an artificial fish shortage is being created to cause prices to rise.

Also, the longer the impounded fish stocks are kept in the cold storages, the more the traders have to pay owners of these facilities. We know, from the deadly chemical leaks that happened in Navotas some months ago, Mayor Tobias’ family is invested in cold storage facilities.

The traders are asking the Department of Agriculture to have a closer look at this situation and the harm it brings consumers.

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