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Japan’s Export Trade Has Collapsed

March 26th, 2009
Like the implosion of a collapsing solar mass, Japan’s exports are undergoing a calamitous free fall contraction, unprecedented in the annals of global economics and finance. This is not reflective of a mere recession, but rather the decapitation of the nerve center of Japan Inc. Massive exports are the hyper-center of economic gravity in Japan; it has been the post-war exponential surge in value-added products shipped abroad from Japanese factories and assembly lines that transformed the nation into the number two global economic super-power. However, the Global Economic Crisis is shattering the very core of Tokyo’s economic prowess, as reflected in the most recent Japanese trade figures.

According to official statistics, the month of February witnessed an overall decline in Japanese exports of 49.4% from exactly a year ago. In other words, in just 12 months Japan’s most crucial economic activity, foreign trade, has been sliced in half as though with a meat clever. This is an astonishingly bad economic figure, however, it actually gets worse when one peruses the details underlying the grim aggregate export numbers. The United States, which remains the single most important market for Japanese products, reduced its imports from Japan by 58%. Exports to Europe declined by 54.7% while shipments to China plunged 39.7%. When it comes to one of the most important and visible Japanese exports, automobiles, the decline was a staggering 70.9%. These figures are not just indicative of a mere global recession; these are the signatures of worldwide economic depression.

As with other somber news emerging with rapidity as the Global Economic Crisis worsens, there remains a remnant among the financial analysts and economic “experts” who creatively “spin” some good news out of this menu of accelerating disaster. “These numbers are not as bad as we thought,” some are saying, while others claim that the rate of contraction of Japan’s exports is receding somewhat. That is actually technically correct; when an economy witnesses a contraction by almost 50% in its export trade in only one year, the mathematical rate of descent must slow down or else in a few months Japan’s exports would be at absolute zero. Putting aside the intellectual acrobatics of those “experts” trying to diminish our perception of how severe the Global Economic Crisis has become, these chilling Japanese trade figures actually send an alarming message to the entire world, only days before the onset of the G20 Summit being held in London.

The export collapse occurring in Japan is a manifestation of the free fall in world trade. In an inter-linked global economy, a massive contraction of Japanese production geared for exports means Tokyo imports much less in terms of intermediate products and commodities that go into the manufacturing of goods that are shipped overseas. It also means Japan has less accumulation of capital. This latter detail is especially vital, for Japanese savers have enabled Tokyo to join with China in being one of the primary purchasers of U.S. government debt. In essence, what is being revealed is a convergence of dire trends. Global trade is shrinking, the U.S. budget deficit is soaring through the roof, while the overseas capital resources essential for financing Washington’s debt are becoming increasingly scarce in proportion with the diminution in global trade. In essence, as U.S. consumers purchase fewer goods from Japan and China, Tokyo and Beijing are left with a much-reduced capacity to loan Uncle Sam the credit he is now addicted to.

The global economic and fiscal model that currently exists, in the context of collapsing export trade from major sources of credit for the United States, as is the case with Japan, is unsustainable. Will the politicians and their coterie of economic and financial experts realize this fundamental truth and formulate sound policy responses before the entire global economy has fallen into the abyss? Based on their track record to date, I don’t see solid grounds for optimism. What does appear more likely is that the worst is yet to come, and Japan’s trade figures are only a foreshadowing of deeper global economic doom.


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