Growth in non-oil domestic exports (Nodx) was much lower in the first three months of the year but government planners are sticking to their earlier full-year forecast for the sector.
Enterprise Singapore is still tipping year-on-year Nodx growth of 1 to 3 per cent for this year, the same projection the trade promotion and development agency made in February.
"Overall, the growth for both Nodx and total trade is expected to remain firm in 2018 but ease from 2017's strong performance," it said yesterday when it reported quarterly trade numbers.
The previous official full-year growth forecast for total merchandise trade was also left untouched. This is tipped to expand 3 to 5 per cent, moderating from an 11.1 per cent jump last year.
Nodx rose 8.8 per cent last year, reversing a 2.8 per cent decline in 2016. It was the strongest growth since 2010, beating the official projection of 6.5 to 7 per cent.
Many private-sector economists had not expected to see the growth over the past year being sustained.
With high base effects kicking in, Maybank economist Chua Hak Bin predicted that Nodx expansion would ease to "the low single-digit" by the end of this year.
The official 1 to 3 per cent forecast for Nodx would be in line with such views.
Ms Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, seems to suggest that Enterprise Singapore could have lowered the forecast but it did not because the direct impact of the recent increase in United States tariffs on Singapore's trade performance was "very limited".
Nodx rose just 1.1 per cent year-on-year in the first three months of the year, much lower than the 10.4 per cent posted in the previous quarter.
But private-sector economists said that could at least partly be due to a shorter working month in February and a high base effect in March.
Chinese New Year fell in February this year, cutting the number of working days in that month, when Nodx tumbled by a revised 6 per cent. In March, a high base from a year earlier helped trim non-electronic Nodx by 1.3 per cent, dragging overall Nodx down 2.7 per cent.
Non-electronic Nodx increased 4.5 per cent in the three months to March 31.
But electronic Nodx was knocked down 7.9 per cent by a weakening global demand for electronics products.
Shipments to all top 10 markets increased in the first quarter, except for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand. The US (plus 45 per cent), Japan (plus 20.6 per cent) and Indonesia (plus 11.1 per cent) were the three biggest contributors to the increased Nodx in the first quarter.
Total trade grew 2.5 per cent after rising 7.8 per cent in the previous quarter. Both oil and non-oil trade rose.
Higher crude prices helped push oil trade up 5.1 per cent while non-oil trade increased 1.9 per cent.
Total trade services jumped 4.7 per cent to $116.6 billion in the first quarter compared with growth of 4.1 per cent in the previous quarter.