• Kyodo, Reuters

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Japan’s exports plunged 11.1% in 2020 from the previous year, marking the largest fall in 11 years, as the COVID-19 pandemic battered global demand for industrial products such as cars, government data showed Thursday.

The annual drop was the sharpest since a 33.1% dive logged in 2009, in the wake of the global financial crisis, according to a preliminary report by the Finance Ministry. Exports in 2020 stood at ¥68.41 trillion ($660 billion), their lowest level since ¥63.75 trillion in 2012.

By item, the nation’s car exports plummeted 20.0% from 2019, and those of auto parts declined 19.1%.

Imports dropped 13.8% to ¥67.73 trillion, the steepest decrease since a 15.8% slide in 2016, mainly due to the falling price of crude oil and other energy resources. The figure was the smallest since 2016, when imports were valued at ¥66.04 trillion.

As a result Japan marked a goods trade surplus of ¥674.73 billion, the first black ink in three years.

As overseas demand was dampened throughout last year by the global spread of the virus, Japan’s monthly exports posted double-digit percentage falls on an annual basis between March and August.

The fall in car exports comes as carmakers like Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. prepare to cut vehicle production this month, due to a shortage of semiconductors as demand rebounds from the virus crisis.

“Exports are stalling due to restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of novel coronavirus infections in Europe and America,” said Yutaro Suzuki, economist at Daiwa Institute of Research. “A supply crunch among automakers caused by a shortage of chips could weigh on exports.”

But in December alone, the Finance Ministry said, exports saw the first year-on-year rise in 25 months, in a sign that the initial impact of the pandemic has eased. They grew 2.0% from a year earlier to ¥6.71 trillion, ending the longest streak of monthly declines on record.

Imports in the reporting month were down 11.6% to ¥5.96 trillion, down for the 20th straight month, leading the country to post a goods trade surplus of ¥751.01 billion for the sixth consecutive month of black ink.

All figures were compiled on a customs-cleared basis.

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