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Japan's exports posted their sharpest growth in 27 months in January as they continued to recover from a coronavirus-triggered global slump, driven by brisk demand in China and other Asian countries, government data showed Wednesday.

Exports in the reporting month rose 6.4% from a year earlier to ¥5.78 trillion, their biggest rise since October 2018 and the second straight month of growth following a 2.0% rise — and the first increase in 25 months — in December, according to the preliminary data released by the Finance Ministry.

The January exports were led by a 37.5% surge in exports to China, the biggest expansion since April 2010, along with a 19.4% jump in shipments to Asia as a whole.

Shipments to China were lifted in part by the annual weeklong Lunar New Year holidays, which started in mid-February this year instead of late January last year. Many factories typically close during the holidays in China.

Among export items with solid growth was chipmaking equipment to countries such as China and South Korea amid the global shortage of semiconductors.

Exports of semiconductor production equipment jumped 50.5% in January and those of plastic soared 30.4%, while car exports declined 5.8% due to sluggish demand in Europe and those of auto parts edged down 0.5%.

Imports of goods fell 9.5% to ¥6.10 trillion, down for the 21st month in a row, as prices of crude oil from producers such as the United Arab Emirates continued to drop. But the pace of decline was slightly slower than the 11.6% marked in the previous month.

The trade balance logged a deficit of ¥323.86 billion, the first red ink in seven months but shrinking 75.4% from a year ago.

By country, imports from China inched down 0.9% with drops in clothes and metal products offsetting rises in cellphones and computers. The balance was ¥486.99 billion in deficit for Japan, the 11th successive month or red ink.

Across Asia including China, imports dipped 4.5%, with Japan seeing a ¥128.09 billion trade surplus.

Exports to the United States fell 4.8% for the third straight month of decline, reflecting poor sales of aircraft. Exports of cars and auto parts were down 0.6% and 8.5%, respectively.

Imports from the United States dropped 14.0%, resulting in a surplus for Japan of ¥415.22 billion.

"Regional divergence became clearer," said Kazuma Maeda, an economist at Barclays Securities Japan Ltd., citing strong exports to China in comparison with slack shipments to the United States and the European Union.

Maeda said overall exports could slow in the first half of 2021, "with the current shortage of semiconductors for autos weighing on vehicle production in Japan and overseas."

The trade figures came two days after the government announced that Japan's gross domestic product grew an annualized real 12.7% in the October-December period from the previous quarter.

Helped by strong exports, GDP expanded by a double-digit percentage for the second consecutive quarter following an annualized 22.7% leap in the previous three-month term. GDP had contracted an annualized 29.3% in the April-June period, the sharpest fall on record.

All figures were compiled on a customs-cleared basis.

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