TOKYO (REUTERS) – Japan’s exports in April fell the most since the 2009 global financial crisis as the world’s third-largest economy braced for a deeper slide into recession, with the coronavirus pandemic taking a heavy toll on external demand.

The trade data underscored the challenge policymakers face in balancing the need to contain the virus, and restarting parts of the battered economy.

Ministry of Finance (MOF) data showed on Thursday (May 21) that exports fell 21.9 per cent in the year to April as US-bound shipments fell 37.8 per cent, the fastest decline since 2009, with car exports there plunging 65.8 per cent.

The fall compares with a 22.7 per cent decrease seen by economists in a Reuters poll. It followed a 11.7 per cent fall in March, and posted the steepest drop since a 23.2 per cent decline in October 2009 when global demand evaporated due to the global financial crisis.

Exports to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, fell 4.1 per cent in the year to April. Shipments to Asia, which account for more than half of Japanese exports, declined 11.4 per cent, and exports to the European Union fell 28.0 per cent.

Japan’s economy slipped into recession for the first time in 4½ years, putting the nation on course for its deepest postwar slump as the pandemic ravages businesses and consumers.

Monday’s first-quarter GDP data underlined the broadening impact of the outbreak, with exports plunging the most since the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami as global lockdowns and supply chain disruptions hit shipments.

Analysts warn of an even bleaker picture for the current quarter as consumption crumbled after the government in April requested citizens to stay home and businesses to close.

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