Wed, May 07, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Export growth probably slowed 6.8%

HARD TIMES The nation's growth fell in April as atypical pneumonia spread throughout Asia, keeping customers from Europe and the US away

BLOOMBERG , TAIPEI

The nation's export growth probably slowed in April as the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the region kept US and European customers away, and shoppers in China and Hong Kong out of stores.

Exports probably increased 6.8 percent from a year earlier, following a 10 percent gain in March, according to the median forecast of six economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. The trade figures are due to be released tomorrow at 4pm local time.

"As SARS spreads throughout Asia, we have also been affected," Chang Yaw-tzong (張耀宗), head of statistics at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, told reporters on April 23.

"Trade links, trade fairs, and overseas sales have been hurt, and the level of damage will become more obvious in the second quarter," he said.

Chang was speaking after the government announced March export orders -- indicative of shipments in one to three months' time -- grew 6.1 percent, their slowest pace in a year.

Since his comments were made, the number of SARS cases worldwide has risen by more than 60 percent to about 6,600 and at least 460 people have died from the disease.

Acer Inc cut its second-quarter Asia sales forecast by about a fifth because of SARS, a Chinese-language newspaper reported last month, citing company president Wang Chen-tang (王振堂). The company's sales growth in China had halved from an annual rate of about 60 percent following the SARS outbreak, the report said.

Taiwan is counting on exports to help meet the government's 3.7 percent growth projection this year. That forecast assumes overseas sales, which account for about half of the nation's GDP, will rise 7.4 percent.

Even as the SARS outbreak looks set to temporarily disrupt exports, there are signs of a pick-up in worldwide electronics demand and a weakening of the NT dollar is improving the competitiveness of the country's semiconductors, mobile phones and laptop computers.

"There are some nascent signs of an improvement in global electronics products," said Robert Subbaraman, an economist at Lehman Brothers Japan Inc.

"Taiwan's real trade-weighted exchange rate has weakened to its most competitive level since the 1970s," he said.

The nation's imports probably rose 10.5 percent last month after increasing 7.4 percent in March, the survey of economists showed.

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