Japan Feb exports jump, surplus with U.S. raises fears of trade tensions

TOKYO Japan’s exports grew the most in more than two years in February, rebounding from a Lunar New Year slowdown in January, as a widening trade surplus with the United States potentially raises tensions in the face of rising U.S. protectionism.



Annual export growth of 11.3 percent topped a 10.6 percent increase expected by economists in a Reuters poll and followed a 1.3 percent gain in January, marking the biggest gain since January 2015, Ministry of Finance data showed on Wednesday.

Exports to the United States rose 0.4 percent in February from a year ago, largely from bigger shipments of cars and auto parts.

Any rise in Japan’s trade surplus with the United States could be a cause of concern for Japanese policymakers, given that U.S. President Donald Trump has singled out Japan, China and Germany for their high net exports into the U.S. market.

“There’s a concern that President (Donald) Trump’s protectionism could cause global trade to falter,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

Japan and the United States will start a high-level economic dialogue in mid-April, with Tokyo seeking ways to avoid trade friction on issues such as car exports by proposing an agenda focused on investment in U.S. infrastructure.

Japan’s trade surplus with the United States rose an annual 1.5 percent to 611.3 billion yen ($5.48 billion), posting the first increase since November although it had dropped a revised 26.5 percent in January.

EXPORT-LED RECOVERY

The trade data highlighted an economic recovery led by overseas demand although the rebound from a Lunar New Year slowdown in China and other parts of Asia in January played a large part.

Exports to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, rose 28.2 percent year-on-year in February, accelerating from a 3.1 percent gain in the previous month.

Demand for auto parts from China and for electronics components from Hong Kong contributed to export growth in February.This performance helped Japan log a surplus of 111.8 billion yen with China – its first in five years.

Overall, Japan’s seasonally-adjusted trade surplus stood at 680.3 billion yen, the highest since April 2010.

Analysts said February’s 8.3 percent growth in the volume of exports, and average export volume growth of around 4 percent in January and February, was a positive sign for the export-reliant economy in the current quarter.

“Even stripping out the Lunar New Year effects, exports are picking up as a trend on the back of a moderate global recovery and Asia-bound shipments,” said Norinchukin’s Minami.

(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Eric Meijer)