Japan's imports from China almost halved last month from a year earlier to log the steepest fall since 1986 as the new coronavirus outbreak disrupted trade, official data showed on Wednesday.
February imports from China, Japan's biggest trade partner along with the United States, plunged 47% to 673.4 billion yen ($6.3 billion) while exports slipped 0.4% to 1.14 trillion yen.
"The virus outbreak hampered manufacturing activities in China, which naturally resulted in drops in Japanese imports from there," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.
As the virus woes in China calm, import drops will likely narrow but there are mounting worries over the US and European economies, Minami said.
"As the outbreak goes global, US and European demand is bound to shrink... Even if Japan makes products, there will be no good place to ship [them to]," Minami said.
Japanese exports are likely to decline or Japan may slip back into a trade deficit, he said.
In trade with the rest of the world, Japan scored an overall surplus of 1.11 trillion yen, more than a three-fold jump from a year earlier and the first black-ink figure in four months.
The outbreak, which first emerged in China late last year, has quickly marched across the globe, infecting nearly 200,000 people and killing more than 7,500, according to a tracker maintained by the Johns Hopkins University.