Cars for export park at a port in Yokohama, near...

Cars for export park at a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on July 6, 2020.Japan’s exports grew nearly 12% in January as shipments jumped in vehicles, auto parts and machinery, according to government data Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: AP/Koji Sasahara

TOKYO — Japan's exports surged a stronger than expected nearly 12% in January, helped by robust demand for vehicles, auto parts and machinery.

That helped the nation’s trade deficit shrink to 1.76 trillion yen ($12 billion), or about half of what it was a year earlier.

Imports, which have been declining on-month for nearly a year, declined 9.6% from the previous year, totaling 9 trillion yen ($60 billion). The biggest declines were for imports of oil, natural gas and iron ore, partly due to declines in prices, but also weak demand.

By region, exports to North America, the rest of Asia and the Middle East rose, while imports from all regions fell.

Exports in January totaled 7.3 trillion yen ($48 billion), marking the second straight month of growth, according to the Finance Ministry’s preliminary report. Analysts had forecast growth at about 10%.

Exports to China jumped 29%, helped by strong demand for computer chip-making equipment. Vehicle exports helped drive a nearly 16% year-on-year increase in exports to the United States and an increase of almost 14% to the EU.

Meanwhile inbound tourism, which counts statistically as exports, is making a solid comeback after the lean years of the pandemic, when Japan imposed strict limits on who was allowed to enter the country.

Exports have remained a relative strong point even as Japan's economy slows, hitting a record high of just over 100 trillion yen ($680 billion) in 2023.

Japan slipped behind Germany in 2023 to become the world’s fourth-largest economy, based on its nominal gross domestic product, or GDP.

The country also fell into a technical recession, with its economy contracting for a second straight quarter in October-December, as consumers scrimped to make up for higher prices.

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