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Quake to Hurt Japan's Exports to China

Although it is too early to calculate the damages and losses to the Japanese and global economies caused by the devastating earthquake and tsunami, it seems predictable that at least Japan's exports to its largest trading partner will be hit hard.

China has long held a trade deficit with Japan. In 2010, the deficit expanded to 55.7 billion U.S. dollars from 33 billion U.S. dollars in 2009, according to the data from Chinese customs. In 2009, China overtook the United States as Japan's largest export market. Sino-Japan trade totals more than 290 billion U.S. dollars.

In the short term at least, Japan's exports to China could be affected seriously. In 2010, China's auto imports surged by 71 percent, the second highest growth since 2003. Japan exported 18.1 billion U.S. dollars of auto products to China, second only to Germany, which sold 18.3 bullion U.S. dollars to China.

That may not continue this year. Japan's top three auto makers, Toyota, Honda and Nissan, have closed their plants in the quake-hit areas in Japan. Toyota is the third largest brand on China's imported auto market, following Germany's Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Some major Japanese auto parts makers have also announced shutdowns of some production facilities. That could result in a tight supply of auto imports into China.

But hopefully the situation can be improved in the near future as analysts believe that the production is likely to resume soon. In the meantime, it can be an opportunity for Chinese automakers. Guangzhou Honda, Honda's joint venture with its Chinese partner Guangzhou Automobile Group, has localized 90 percent of its auto parts production and it can adjust its global supply chain to guarantee imports, according to Zeng Qinghong, CEO of Guangzhou Automobile Group.

Li Chunbo, chief analyst for the auto sector with Citi Securities, thinks that automakers for Japanese brands in China will probably be more motivated to boost localization of their supply chain due to the aftermath of the earthquake, which may mean more opportunities for Chinese auto parts manufacturers.

Mei Xinyu, an expert in world trade at a research institute affiliated with the Ministry of Commerce, thinks that Japan's manufacturing sector and exports could be affected seriously by the earthquake, which would in turn disturb the highly globalized manufacturing chain in other parts of the world, including China.

The supply of electronic and optical products from Japan is likely to be affected even more than the auto sector. There are very few or even no import substitutes for those products.

Guangzhou Daily reported on Monday that the supply and prices on the global chip market is expected to be hit hard as Japan provides one-fifth of the world chip products. Apple, for example, heavily replies on the NAND flash made in Japan. Japan is also one of the leading production bases for LCD displays. The quake may cause considerable reduction of the supply of those products on the world market.

Chinese consumers are already concerned about the possible price hikes for imported camera products form Japan. Top Japanese camera makers Sony, Nikon and Canon have announced suspension of some of their production capabilities after the earthquake.

However, from the mid-term and long-run perspective, analysts believe that Japan's reconstruction after the earthquake could bring business opportunities. Massive investment from the government and the private sector can boost both the employment and some sectors in Japan — particularly energy and construction.

The Japanese currency yen has already gained against the dollar as Japanese investors are withdrawing their capital from the overseas market. A stronger yen will not help Japan's exports.

However, many analysts believe that the impact of Japan's quake would not last long on the global market. A Moody's economist even thinks that Japan's reconstruction efforts after the earthquake could boost global trade.

Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming said on Sunday that he believes the impact of the earthquake on the bilateral trade would be "brief."

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