© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A laborer works in a container area at a port in Tokyo, Japan July 19, 2017. Picture taken July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
By Tetsushi Kajimoto
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s export growth slowed sharply in December as China-bound shipments fell for the first time in seven months, stoking fears of a further slowdown in the global economy and external demand for Japanese shipments.
Exports rose 11.5% year-on-year in December after a 20% gain in November, marking the slowest growth since the start of 2022, dragged down by a fall off in sales to China of cars, auto parts and chip-making machinery, Ministry of Finance data (MOF) showed on Thursday.
The weak data dashes policymakers’ hopes for an export-led recovery from the pandemic, putting more pressure on the government to persuade Japanese firms to speed up wage hikes to help boost domestic demand.
Exports to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, fell 6.2% year-on-year in value and were down by 24% in terms of volume in December.
“The unexpected stalling of the Chinese economy came on top of slowdown in Europe and America. In the worst case, it may deal a blow to Japanese exports, which could in turn hit Japan’s factory output and capital expenditure,” said Atsushi Takeda, chief economist at ITOCHU Research Institute.
“Japan would then have no choice but turn to domestic demand to pick up the slack. In that sense, spring wage talks between labor and management hold the key to seeing whether private consumption will hold up to drive virtuous economic growth.”
Economic activity has been hampered in China by a wave of COVID-19 infections after the government began dismantling its “zero-COVID” controls in December.
Although the latest wave of infections is expected to have faded by spring in China, it will take time for the world’s second largest economy to return to pre-pandemic levels and risks of further COVID waves remain, Takeda said.
The trade data also highlighted the challenge of a resource-deficient country that relies heavily on imports of commodity and energy.
Imports grew 20.6% in value terms, led by oil, coal and liquefied, driving cost-push inflation that will raise the cost of living and price of doing business, potentially harming demand in the economy.
The rises in exports and imports were largely in line with forecasts by economists in a Reuters poll.
As a result, December’s trade deficit came to 1.45 trillion yen ($11.29 billion), extending the run of deficits to 17 months.
For the whole of 2022, Japan recorded a trade deficit of 19.97 trillion yen, the second straight annual shortfall and the biggest since 1979.
($1 = 128.4300 yen)