By Tetsushi Kajimoto
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s exports rebounded in the year to October, reversing from the prior month’s surprise drop as U.S.-bound shipments grew, although slowing global demand and the intensifying U.S.-China trade war could cloud the outlook for export-reliant Japan.
Ministry of Finance (MOF) data out on Monday showed exports rose 8.2 percent in October from a year before, versus a 9.0 percent annual increase expected by economists in a Reuters poll.
The export growth followed a revised 1.3 percent year-on-year drop in September, which analysts say was caused by natural disasters that crimped factory output and distribution of goods.
The data followed gross domestic product data issued last week that showed Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, shrank more than expected in the third quarter, hit by the natural disasters and export slump.
While the economy is expected to return to growth this quarter as temporary effects from natural disasters fade, Japanese policymakers remain wary about the overall economic impact of international trade friction.
Japan’s exports to the United States grew 11.6 percent in the year to October, led by shipments of cars. U.S.-bound auto exports stood at 154,085 cars, up 3.0 percent year-on-year, rising for the first time in five months.
Imports from the United States rose 34.3 percent in October, led by feed corn, liquefied petroleum gas and crude oil, helping reduce Japan’s trade surplus with the United States by 11.0 percent versus the same month last year to 573.4 billion yen ($5.09 billion).
U.S. President Donald Trump has criticised Japan as well as China over trade, asserting that Tokyo treats the United States unfairly by shipping millions of cars to North America while blocking imports of U.S. autos and farm products.
In September, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump agreed to start trade talks in an arrangement that appeared, at least for now, to protect Japanese automakers from further tariffs on their exports, which make up about two-thirds of Japan’s $69 billion annual trade surplus with the United States.
Monday’s trade data showed exports to China, Japan’s biggest trading partner, rose 9.0 percent in the year to October led by cars, car engines and plastic raw materials, following the prior month’s drop.
Shipments to Asia, which account for more than half of Japan’s overall exports, rose 7.3 percent.
Overall imports rose 19.9 percent in the year to October, versus the median estimate for a 14.5 percent annual increase, bringing in a trade deficit of 449.3 billion yen.
($1 = 112.7600 yen)
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto, editing by Eric Meijer)