Japan's Foreign Ministry published figures revealing that the country's economy suffered a huge trade deficit in the April 2011 to March 2012 fiscal year. The quake-tsunami disaster was only one reason for it.
Japan logged a record trade deficit in the 12-month fiscal year ending in March 2012, the Finance Ministry reported on Thursday. The country's export shortfall totaled 4.410 trillion yen ($54.2 billion, 41 billion euros).
For decades, Japan had enjoyed huge trade surpluses because of its competitive cars and electronics. The current imbalance even exceeds that of 2008 when the global financial crisis kicked in amid the collapse of Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers.
"At the time of the Lehman shock, foreign demand was just gone, dealing a blow to exports," Satoshi Osanai, an economist with the Daiwa Institute for Research, told the AFP news agency. "This time around, however, the deficit largely stemmed from higher import costs of natural resources."
Those imports had become necessary because of the earthquake-tsunami disaster in Japan and the ensuing nuclear energy crisis after the worst nuclear accident in a generation. At the same time, demand from Europe suffered as the eurozone's debt crisis showed no sign of easing.
Improvement in sight
As a result, imports soared by 11.6 percent, mostly due to fossil fuel needs, while exports dipped by 3.7 percent to 64.282 billion yen.
Driving the decline in exports, electronic components fell by 14.7 percent, followed by a 5.4 percent drop in vehicle shipments. Manufacturers' supply chains were severely disrupted by the tsunami, but also by floods in Thailand where many Japanese companies have plants.
Analysts expect Japan to shrink its deficit in the current fiscal year. Trade with China and other emerging economies, as well as the United States, looks likely to pick up in the months ahead. The European market, however, remains a concern with shipments of cars, chemicals and steel products to the area not expected to increase considerably.
hg/sms (dpa, AFP, dapd)