Exports marked their first fall in more than a year last month as the damage caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami significantly slowed production of vehicles and other products, the government said Wednesday.
Analysts say the impact of the disaster, which has disrupted the nationwide supply chains of manufactured goods, could emerge more clearly in April. Exports may recover before summer as reconstruction work continues, but they are expected to fall again later, given electricity supply shortages due mainly to the prolonged crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The value of exports fell 2.2 percent in March from a year earlier to ¥5.87 trillion for the first decline in 16 months, leading to a 78.9 percent plunge in the country’s trade surplus to ¥196.5 billion, the Finance Ministry said in a preliminary report.
Imports grew 11.9 percent to ¥5.67 trillion for the 15th straight monthly increase. The figures were measured on a customs-cleared basis.
The quake, which struck northeastern areas where major manufacturers have production bases, not only caused damage to their facilities and equipment but also destroyed roads, ports and other infrastructure and disrupted the supply chains of industrial products.
Among the most affected were carmakers, with such big names as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. being forced to temporarily halt production. The business environment deteriorated further as the disaster affected power supplies and led to severe electricity shortages.
Auto exports dropped 27.8 percent.
By destination, exports to the United States fell 27.2 percent, to China down 26.2 percent, to Asia as a whole down 23.4 percent and to the European Union down 17.4 percent.
Exports had been recovering before the disaster, supported by robust demand in fast-growing emerging Asian economies.
In March, however, exports to the region fell 0.01 percent to ¥3.38 trillion, registering the first decline in 17 months.
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