January 23, 2019 12:45 PM, EST

Japan Exports Sink 3.8% in December, Hit by China Slowdown

Containership docked in ToykoA containership berthed in Tokyo. (Koji Sasahara/Associated Press)

TOKYO — Japan’s exports fell 3.8% in December from a year earlier, hit by slowing demand in China, as the trade balance shifted back into deficit for the year, the Japanese government reported Jan. 23.

For the year, imports outpaced the rise in exports, leaving a trade deficit for the first time in three years, the Ministry of Finance reported.

Japan’s imports rose 1.9% in December from the same month in 2017, leaving a deficit of 55.3 billion yen (about $507 million).

The preliminary data from the Ministry of Finance showed that shipments to China sank 7% in December from the same month of 2017.

China’s economy has slowed more quickly than anticipated recently, partly as a result of trade friction with the United States. Economic growth in 2018 fell to 6.6%, the slowest annual pace since 1990 and well below the 6.9% expansion in 2017.

Vibrant growth in the United States and China, among other regions, is vital for Japan’s export-oriented economy.

Junichi Makino, chief economist at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo, said the trade balance likely will turn to a surplus in the long run because of healthy auto exports to the United States and the recent fall in oil prices. Japan imports much of its oil.