Japan's goods imports from China in February nearly halved to an 11-year low, marking the steepest fall since 1986, as the coronavirus outbreak stalled economic activity in the world's second-largest economy, Japanese government data showed Wednesday.
Monthly imports plunged 47.1 percent from a year earlier to 673.35 billion yen ($6.28 billion), the lowest since 600.62 billion yen in February 2009, with the pneumonia-causing virus originating in Wuhan, central China, forcing many production bases in the country to shut down, preliminary data from the Finance Ministry showed.
It was the largest decline since a 47.3 percent dive logged in August 1986, when China implemented steps to slow its overheating economy following the economic reform and open-door policy that started in 1978.
Imports of clothing, mobile phones and computers from China were particularly hard hit by the virus outbreak, nosediving 65.7 percent, 45.3 percent and 37.2 percent, respectively. Japan's exports to its neighbor edged down 0.4 percent to 1.14 trillion yen.
As a result, Japan posted its largest-ever trade surplus with China at 462.73 billion yen, the first black ink seen since March 2018 when it logged 89.59 billion yen surplus.
"The novel coronavirus infection (spread) has impacted the Chinese economy, and particularly taken a toll on its exports," a ministry official told reporters. "We'll carefully watch trends in trade with China in March."
Taro Saito, executive research fellow at the NLI Research Institute, said the economic activities in China have been "rapidly slowing down" since the start of this year due to the virus epidemic, but its influence on Japan's exports to China had yet to appear clearly in February due to contracts made before the outbreak.
He added Japan's exports of IT-related products such as semiconductor electronic parts picked up worldwide in the reporting month following the bottoming out of the global demand.
With the whole world, Japan logged a trade surplus of 1.11 trillion yen in February, the first black ink in four months, on a sharp decline in the country's imports amid the coronavirus epidemic.
In the reporting month, overall imports fell 14.0 percent from a year earlier to 5.21 trillion yen, down for the 10th consecutive month, while exports dipped 1.0 percent to 6.32 trillion yen, falling for the 15th straight month, the ministry said.
Across Asia including China, Japan's trade surplus hit a record 1.23 trillion yen as imports decreased 24.0 percent to 2.14 trillion yen, dragged down by the lack of imports from China. Exports were up 1.7 percent to 3.37 trillion yen.
Among other partners, Japan's trade surplus with the United States edged up 1.2 percent from a year earlier to 626.77 billion yen for the second consecutive monthly increase, helped by declines in imports of such items as aircraft engines, antenna parts and grain.
Japan's imports from and exports to the United States both declined despite a bilateral trade deal that entered into force on Jan. 1, scrapping or lowering tariffs on certain items.
With the European Union, excluding the United Kingdom which left the regional bloc on Jan. 31, Japan saw a trade deficit of 18.33 billion yen, marking the eighth straight month of red ink.
As for the outlook from March onward, Saito said both Japan's imports and exports with the whole world are expected to "significantly fall" due to the disruption of supply chains caused by the virus pandemic.
"The center of the virus infection is shifting from China to Western countries, so the total volume of Japan's trade is highly likely to drastically shrink after March," Saito said.
All figures were compiled on a customs-cleared basis.