Trade with China falls first time in three years

Kyodo, AP

China’s trade with Japan fell 3.9 percent in 2012 to $329 billion, the first drop in three years, the General Administration of Customs said Thursday.

The drop reflects a Chinese consumer boycott of Japanese goods sparked by a territorial row, which led to an 8.6 percent fall in imports from Japan last year. Japan fell from being China’s fourth-largest trading partner to its fifth.

The last time the bilateral trade figure declined was 2009 — one year after the September 2008 collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered a global financial crisis.

The consumer boycott was sparked by the Japanese government’s move in September to effectively nationalize the Senkaku Islands, which Japan has long controlled but which China in recent decades has also claimed.

Meanwhile, the same data showed that China’s overall export growth more than quadrupled from the previous month to 14.1 percent, while imports — which failed to grow at all in November — rose 6 percent in a sign of increasing domestic demand.

The trade figures add to evidence China is gradually emerging from its worst economic downturn since the 2008 global crisis. Factory output and other activity improved in the final quarter of 2012, but analysts say a recovery still is shaky and will be too weak to drive a global rebound without a turnaround in the United States and Europe.

The improvement comes as a new generation of Communist Party leaders who were installed at an October congress take power.

Beijing is pinning hopes for recovery on government-driven investment and domestic consumer spending that is rising but not as fast as authorities want.

Private-sector analysts, the World Bank and other forecasters expect growth of about 8 percent in 2012 and about 7.5 percent this year. That is far stronger than the West and Japan but would be China’s weakest performance since the 1990s.