The figures continued to break records after exports and imports dropped 41.9 percent and 44.6 percent respectively in December, Lin said, attributing the declines mostly to drying demand for electronics, basic metal and plastic products.
Sales to China including Hong Kong, Taiwan’s largest trade partner, shrank 58.6 percent to US$3.71 billion while shipments to the US, its second-largest partner, dropped 26.5 percent to US$1.95 billion, the ministry’s report showed.
Exports to Japan and Europe fell 17.9 percent and 32.6 percent to US$1.12 billion and US$1.72 billion respectively, the report said. Meanwhile, shipments to ASEAN countries retreated 51.1 percent to US$1.69 billion, the report said.
As imports deteriorated faster than exports, the country managed to post a trade surplus 1.2 times that of last year. However, Lin said he worried the decrease in imported capital would persist.
Tony Phoo (符銘財), chief economist at Standard Chartered Bank, said the numbers were better than expected, as his company had predicted a decline of 48 percent.
“The trade surplus is bigger than the total amount for the first quarter of last year and will help enhance the GDP this year,” Phoo said by telephone.
Phoo said the downshift in exports would continue in the first half, but should not be as drastic.
“The drop [in exports] after seasonal adjustment stood at 34.9 percent, slowing from 41.9 percent in December,” he said.
Export figures are expected to improve next month as the comparison base for the previous year is low during the holiday season, Phoo said, adding it would be safer to compare quarterly data when dissecting the trend.
Cheng Cheng-mount (鄭貞茂), head economist at Citigroup Taiwan Inc, said that nominally or seasonally adjusted, the decline remained substantial.
Cheng, whose company projected the headline fall at 56 percent, said it was too early to interpret the figures as signs of a recovery.
“Exports are expected to continue to fall into the second quarter,” Cheng said by telephone. “No one knows when the trend will end.”
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