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Japan’s trade deficit dwindles as exports continue to grow

TOKYO — Japan’s exports grew nearly 12% in January as shipments jumped in vehicles, auto parts and machinery, according to government data Wednesday.

That helped the nation’s trade deficit shrink to 1.76 trillion yen ($12 billion), or about half of what it was a year ago, as imports declined 9.6% from the previous year.

By region, exports grew to North America, the rest of Asia and the Middle East, while imports generally fell from all global regions.

Imports, which have been declining on-month for nearly a year, totaled 9 trillion yen ($60 billion), with the biggest drops in oil, natural gas and iron ore.

Exports totaled 7.3 trillion yen ($48 billion), marking the second straight month of growth, according to the Finance Ministry’s preliminary report. The export rise was better than what analysts had expected at about a 10% growth.

Japan has slipped to become the world’s fourth-largest economy, after the U.S., China and Germany, according to nominal gross domestic product, or GDP, data for last year.

It also recorded a technical recession, marking the second straight quarter of contraction in October-December, as consumer spending weakened on the back of surging prices.

While prices have been gaining steadily, policy makers are also worried about deflation, or the continuous fall in prices, which they see as a chronic problem dragging economic growth.

Gauging inflationary trends will be crucial for the Bank of Japan’s decision on its current super-easy monetary policy.

Rising energy prices have hurt a resource-poor nation that depends on manufacturing exports to drive growth.

Tourism, which counts as exports, previously slammed by the travel and other social restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, is making a solid comeback.

Some analysts are expecting Japan’s economy to recover later this year and in 2025.

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Yuri Kageyama is on X: https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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