September 19, 2018 / 1:21 AM / a month ago

Japan exports rise as U.S.-bound shipments grow amid trade war fears

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s export growth accelerated in August from the previous month supported by stronger shipments to the United States, a sign the escalating trade friction between the Washington and Beijing has yet to hit Japanese trade.

Containers are seen at an industrial port in the Keihin Industrial Zone in Kawasaki, Japan September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

But the rise in exports to the United States could put Tokyo under pressure from President Donald Trump ahead of bilateral trade talks expected later this month, some analysts say.

Japanese policymakers also worry over of the impact on the country’s exports as the United States and China dive deeper into a trade war.

Beijing added $60 billion of U.S. products to its import tariff list in retaliation for Trump’s planned levies on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

There are few signs of material damage so far.

Japanese exports rose 6.6 percent in August from a year earlier, handily beating a 5.6 percent increase expected by economists in a Reuters poll and exceeding a 3.9 percent gain in July, finance ministry data showed on Wednesday.

Japan’s exports to the United States rose 5.3 percent in the year to August, the first gain in three months, led by medicines, construction and mining machinery.

U.S.-bound car exports fell for a third straight month, pulling back from last year’s brisk shipments.

However, the trade data also showed imports from the United States surged 21.5 percent in August, led by aircraft and liquefied natural gas, cutting Japan’s trade surplus with the United States by 14.5 percent year-on-year to 455.8 billion yen ($4.06 billion).

“Overall, the U.S.-China trade war would have a negative impact on Japan’s exports and the economy,” said Koya Miyamae, an economist at SMBC Nikko Securities.

“But the impact isn’t apparent in the August trade data... Any effect could come out from September onwards.”

Some analysts were less optimistic.

Capital Economics said it expected seasonally adjusted data out later on Wednesday to show Japan’s import volumes also exceeded export volumes in August.

“This would mark the second consecutive month that growth in exports fell short of imports and supports our view that net exports remained a drag on GDP growth in Q3,” it said in a note.

The data comes as the Bank of Japan debates at a policy review ending on Wednesday how trade frictions could undermine growth in the export-reliant economy.

The trade data showed exports to China, Japan’s biggest trading partner, rose 12.1 percent in the year to August.

Japan is hoping to avert steep tariffs on its car exports and fend off U.S. demands for a bilateral free trade agreement at a second round of trade talks with the United States, likely to take place later this month.

Japan fears a bilateral deal could put it under pressure to open politically sensitive sectors such as agriculture.

Japan’s biggest automakers and components suppliers also worry they would be hit hard if Washington follows through on proposals to hike tariffs on autos and auto parts to 25 percent.

Shipments to Asia, which account for more than half of Japan’s overall exports, rose 6.8 percent.

Overall imports rose 15.4 percent in the year to August, roughly in line with the median estimate for a 14.9 percent annual increase.

The trade balance was deficit of 444.6 billion yen, largely matching the median estimate for a shortfall of 468.7 billion yen.

Additional reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Eric Meijer

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