TOKYO • Japan's exports rose in March at the fastest pace in more than two years as increased shipments of car parts and steel signalled that expanding overseas demand could help boost the country's notoriously slow economic growth.
Exports rose 12 per cent in March from a year ago, more than the median estimate of 6.7 per cent annual growth. The data also showed Japan's trade surplus with the United States narrowed, although this development is unlikely to wholly ease concerns about US trade policy.
Japan's exports are expected to continue rising as global economic growth gains momentum, but concerns about US President Donald Trump's pledges to adopt more protectionist trade policies cloud the outlook for Japan's trade.
"Exports look pretty good, and we expect this to contribute to growth this year," said senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute Hidenobu Tokuda. "One concern is Trump could start to take a tougher stance on trade with China, and by doing so he could also start to criticise Japan's exports more openly."
In terms of volume, exports rose 6.6 per cent last month from a year ago, a second consecutive month of gains.
Exports to the United States rose 3.5 per cent last month from a year ago due to higher shipments of car parts. That compares with a 0.4 per cent annual increase in US-bound exports in the previous month.
Japan's trade surplus with the United States fell 8.1 per cent in March from a year ago to 628.1 billion yen (S$8 billion) on rising imports of liquefied natural gas and grains.
Exports to China rose 16.4 per cent last month from a year ago, following a 28.2 per cent annual surge in exports in February after the Chinese New Year.
Japan's exports to Asia rose 16.3 per cent year-on-year in March after rising an annual 21 per cent in the previous month.
Japan's imports rose 15.8 per cent in March from a year ago, the largest increase since March 2014, as higher oil prices pushed up the value of energy imports.
The overall trade balance came to a surplus of 614.7 billion yen versus the median estimate for a 575.8 billion yen surplus.