Japan’s exports in the first half of 2021 rose 23.2% from a year earlier, marking the largest year-on-year growth in 11 years and reflecting the global economic recovery from the slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, government data showed Wednesday.
The increase was the largest on a half-year basis since the 37.9% jump logged in the first half of 2010, when the world economy was rebounding from the global financial crisis, according to a preliminary report by the Finance Ministry.
Exports in the January to June period expanded to ¥39.86 trillion ($363 billion), which surpassed the pre-pandemic level of ¥38.25 trillion logged in the first half of 2019 when Japan’s shipments were dented by trade conflicts between Washington and Beijing.
The outcome is partly a reflection of a 15.4% fall recorded in the first half of 2020, when the pandemic disturbed economic activities across the world and dampened global demand for Japan-made items such as cars.
With strong economic recoveries seen especially in China and the United States, Japan’s exports for the six months through June were boosted by a 32.8% jump in car shipments as well as a 38.8% surge in exports of auto parts.
Imports also grew 12.2% from the previous year to ¥38.87 trillion, the largest gain since the 15.9% climb in the second half of 2017, reflecting a rebound in crude oil prices and a recovery in domestic consumption.
Both exports and imports saw their first expansions since the latter half of 2018.
As a result, the world’s third-largest economy registered a goods-trade surplus of ¥984.99 billion in the six-month period, the second straight half-year period of black ink.
For June alone, Japan’s exports rose 48.6% from a year earlier to ¥7.22 trillion and imports were up 32.7% to ¥6.84 trillion. The balance marked a surplus of ¥383.18 billion, following the previous month’s ¥189.36 billion deficit.
“Exports and imports sharply decreased a year ago due to the coronavirus pandemic, leading to these high growth rates for both the half-yearly and monthly figures,” a ministry official told reporters.
By country, exports in the first half to China grew 27.0% to ¥8.60 trillion — hitting the highest level on record since comparable data became available in the January to June period of 1979 — boosted by brisk shipments of items such as semiconductor producing equipment and plastics.
Imports from the world’s second-largest economy rose 14.5% to ¥9.72 trillion, led by strong demand for cellphones and laptops, with Japan seeing a trade deficit of ¥1.11 trillion.
In trade with the United States, exports increased 23.9% to ¥7.06 trillion as shipments of automobiles and car parts leaped 38.3% and 42.8%, respectively. Imports were up 7.6%, resulting in a surplus for Japan of ¥2.81 trillion.
“Restrictions on business activities have been eased gradually as vaccine rollouts were promoted particularly in major economies, which helped boost Japan’s exports” in this year’s first six months, said Masato Koike, an economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
Looking forward, Koike said solid demand for chipmaking machines amid brisk digital investment across the world was likely to underpin Japan’s exports, but that the pace of recovery was expected to slow as their value has already topped pre-pandemic levels.
As for Japan’s goods trade balance, meanwhile, Koike predicted that the surplus was highly likely to shrink, or that the balance may turn red in line with an expected increase in imports.
“Imports have vast room to grow, since the nation’s vaccination rate — which has been lagging behind other developed countries — will rise and boost domestic consumption,” he said.
All figures were compiled on a customs-cleared basis.
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