Exports last month rose 75.8 percent from a year earlier to a 16-month high of US$21.7 billion, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday, adding that it was the third consecutive month that outbound sales had exceeded US$20 billion.
Imports also surged to a 16-month high of US$19.25 billion, up 114.7 percent from a year earlier, it said.
The resultant trade surplus totaled US$2.49 billion last month, down US$900 million from the same period last year, but up compared with December’s US$1.65 billion, the ministry said.
“Exports have shown signs of steady recovery,” Lin Lee-jen (林麗貞), head of the ministry’s statistics department, told a press conference, attributing the sharp increase to a low comparison base in the same period last year because of the financial crisis.
The Lunar New Year also fell in January last year, which resulted in reduced business activity, she said.
Exports to China, including Hong Kong, topped the list last month at US$9.54 billion. Sales to China, which rose US$1.09 billion from US$8.45 billion in December, also posted the highest monthly increase among all destinations.
“The strong growth in exports to China and Hong Kong last month was driven by a robust Chinese economic recovery and increased demand ahead of the Lunar New Year,” she said.
Compared with last month, electronic products and optical equipment saw the biggest growth in exports to China, rising US$330 million and US$300 million respectively, the ministry’s data showed.
Taiwanese exports are substantially dependent on the Chinese market, with sales to China, including Hong Kong, accounting for 43.9 percent of total exports, the highest since October 2007.
“The proportion of exports to China and Hong Kong this year is likely to break the record of 44.1 percent set in September 2007,” Lin said, adding that exports to the Chinese market were expected to exceed US$10 billion in the following year.
The ministry expects both exports and imports to show a strong increase in the following six months, as the nation’s external trade has shown signs of steady growth and given a low comparison base in the first half of last year, Lin said.
“Exports are supported by strong external demand and shipments to mainland China have grown particularly fast,” Tine Olsen, an economist in the Sydney office of Moody’s Economy.com, said in a statement yesterday.
“Taiwan’s manufacturing industry and consumers were demanding more imports, as industrial production and private consumption recovers from the slump one year ago,” Olsen said.
Last month’s imports of agricultural and industrial materials hit a record high of US$14.96 billion in 16 months, up US$1.03 billion, or 7.4 percent, from a month earlier, with minerals posting the biggest rise of US$460 million, or 11.1 percent, the ministry’s data showed.
Imports of consumer products totaled US$1.7 billion last month, the highest since January 1999, with sedans showing the largest growth of US$400 million, it showed.
Olsen said that Taiwan’s trade flows were recovering, and that the nation continued to “book healthy trade surpluses.”
Cheng Cheng-mount (鄭貞茂), chief economist at Citigroup Inc Taiwan, said last month’s exports and imports were much better than expected.
“It indicates a strong export momentum and bodes well for economic growth in the first quarter of this year,” Cheng told the Taipei Times by telephone.