Exports last month recorded another double-digit drop for the seventh consecutive month as demand from major trading partners remained weak, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday.
Outbound shipments last month declined 35.7 percent from last year to US$15.59 billion, while imports dropped 49.5 percent to US$12.17 billion, leaving a trade surplus of US$3.41 billion, the ministry’s latest data showed.
Lin Lee-jen (林麗貞), head of the ministry’s statistics department, said yesterday that the contraction, while sizable, had slowed from the 37.2 percent decline in January and February combined (to factor in the holiday effect) and a 41.9 percent plunge in December.
“The trade volume marked an increase of US$2.99 billion from a month earlier, indicating the slump [in exports] is not worsening,” Lin said, attributing the improvement to rush orders for consumer electronic products from China.
Shipments to China, including Hong Kong, fell 37.5 percent from a year earlier to US$6.3 billion, while exports to the US and Japan sank 22.4 percent and 34.5 percent to US$2.04 billion and US$1.03 billion respectively, the report showed.
Exports to Europe and ASEAN countries dropped 36 percent and 44 percent to US$1.73 billion and US$2.07 billion respectively, the report said.
Electronics, basic metals, plastics, chemicals and other major export products saw declines of between 22 percent and 58 percent. Shipments of bicycles were the exception, rising 3.3 percent to US$858 million from a year earlier, the report said.
In the first three months of the year, exports dropped 36.6 percent from last year to US$40.55 billion and imports plunged 47.2 percent to US$32.06 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of US8.49 billion.
Cheng Cheng-mount (鄭貞茂), head economist at Citigroup Taiwan Inc, said that the quarterly drop was a cause for concern.
Cheng, whose firm forecast the nation’s GDP would contract 8.2 percent in the first quarter, said the final results might turn out worse than expected.
“Despite rush orders, exports deteriorated more sharply than in the fourth quarter, when the drop hit 24.7 percent and the economy contracted 8.36 percent,” Cheng said by telephone.
Cheng said he would not be surprised if GDP contracted by 10 percent in the first quarter, even though the government put the decline at 6.51 percent.
Meanwhile, Tony Phoo (符銘財), chief economist at Standard Chartered Bank who has forecast that the economy would shrink by 4.9 percent in the first quarter, said talks of a recovery were premature as the US and European economies, the main consumers of Taiwanese exports, have yet to stabilize.