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Japan's 2021 1st-half exports up 23.2%, sharpest rise in 11 yrs

Heat waves distort trucks and shipping containers as work continues at a dock along Tokyo Bay ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics, on July 19, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's exports in the first half of 2021 rose 23.2 percent from a year earlier, marking the largest year-on-year growth in 11 years, reflecting the global economic recovery from the slump caused by the coronavirus pandemic, government data showed Wednesday.

    The increase was the largest on a half-year basis since the 37.9 percent 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-June period expanded to 39.86 trillion yen ($363 billion), which surpassed the pre-pandemic level of 38.25 trillion yen 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 percent plummet registered 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 recovery especially in China and the United States, Japan's exports for the six months through June were boosted by a 32.8 percent jump in car shipments as well as a 38.8 percent surge in exports of auto parts.

    Imports also grew 12.2 percent from the previous year to 38.87 trillion yen, the largest gain since the 15.9 percent 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 yen in the six-month period, the second straight half-year period of black ink.

    For June alone, Japan's exports rose 48.6 percent from a year earlier to 7.22 trillion yen, and imports were up 32.7 percent to 6.84 trillion yen. The balance marked a surplus of 383.18 billion yen, following the previous month's 189.36 billion yen 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 percent to 8.60 trillion yen, hitting the highest level on record since comparable data became available in January-June 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 percent to 9.72 trillion yen, led by strong demand for cellphones and laptops, with Japan seeing a trade deficit of 1.11 trillion yen.

    In trade with the United States, exports increased 23.9 percent to 7.06 trillion yen as shipments of automobiles and car parts leaped 38.3 percent and 42.8 percent, respectively. Imports were up 7.6 percent, resulting in a surplus for Japan of 2.81 trillion yen.

    "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 is likely to underpin Japan's exports but that the pace of recovery is 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 is 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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