Japan Records a Trade Deficit in August as Exports to China, Rest of Asia Weaken

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's exports fell 0.8% last month from a year earlier, with steep declines in shipments to China and the rest of Asia, its largest regional market.

Imports sank nearly 18%, the Japanese Finance Ministry said in preliminary data released Wednesday. That left a trade deficit of 930.5 billion yen ($6.3 billion) in August, for the second straight month of red ink, it said.

Exports to Asian markets fell 8.8%, while imports dropped about 13%. A large share of that was an 11% drop in the value of shipments to China, whose economy has slowed in recent months as a hoped-for rebound from disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic fizzled.

"We think the weak recovery in China will continue to have a negative impact on exports for a while, but semiconductors seem like they are bottoming out from the down cycle," Robert Carnell, regional head of research Asia-Pacific at ING, said in a report.

He said the strong contribution to economic growth in the April-July quarter was expected to weaken in this quarter.

Japan's exports to the U.S. climbed 5.1%, helped by robust demand for vehicles. Exports to the European Union jumped 12.7% from a year earlier.

By product category, total auto exports jumped 40.9% year-on-year and semiconductor exports gained 8.1%. Exports in chemicals declined 11.7% and machinery exports slipped 9.6%.

China announced on Aug. 24 that it was suspending all seafood imports from Japan after treated radioactive water began to be released into the Pacific Ocean from the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northern Japan.

That may have some impact on imports from Japan in September and beyond, but Japan's overall exports of food to China accounted for only a 1% share of the total, even if they did fall 41% from a year earlier.

China's weaker than expected recovery has been weighing on Japanese exports, although hopes are growing the downturn may be bottoming out, at least for some industries.