The world’s fourth-largest exporter behind China, America and Germany, Japan shipped $641.4 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2020. That dollar amount reflects a -9.2% decline since 2019 and a -0.6% decrease from 2016 to 2020.
Applying a continental lens, 60.5% of Japan exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 21% were sold to North American importers. Japan shipped another 12.9% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Oceania led by Australia (2.4%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.9%) then Africa (1.2%).
Japan’s Top Trading Partners
Below is a list showcasing 15 of Japan’s top trading partners, countries that imported the most Japanese shipments by dollar value during 2019. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total Japanese exports.
- China: US$141.6 billion (22.1% of total Japanese exports)
- United States: $118.8 billion (18.5%)
- South Korea: $44.7 billion (7%)
- Taiwan: $44.4 billion (6.9%)
- Hong Kong: $32 billion (5%)
- Thailand: $25.5 billion (4%)
- Singapore: $17.7 billion (2.8%)
- Germany: $17.6 billion (2.7%)
- Vietnam: $17.1 billion (2.7%)
- Malaysia: $12.6 billion (2%)
- Australia: $12.2 billion (1.9%)
- Netherlands: $10.9 billion (1.7%)
- United Kingdom: $10.8 billion (1.7%)
- Indonesia: $9.2 billion (1.4%)
- India: $9.1 billion (1.4%)
More than four-fifths (81.7% by value) of Japanese exports in 2020 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.
China, Vietnam and Taiwan were the only top importers to increase purchases from Japan from 2019 to 2020, up in value by 5.1%, 3.9% and 3.3% respectively.
Among the remaining 12 purchasing countries, declines ranged from a minimum of -3.4% for South Korea up to -34.3% for Indonesia.
As defined by Investopedia, a country whose total value of all imported goods is higher than its value of all exports is said to have a negative trade balance or deficit.
It would be unrealistic for any exporting nation to expect across-the-board positive trade balances with all its importing partners. Similarly, that export country doesn’t necessarily post a negative trade balance with each individual partner with which it exchanges exports and imports.
In 2020, Japan incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries.
- Australia: -US$23.5 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2020)
- China: -$22.4 billion
- Saudi Arabia: -$14.2 billion
- United Arab Emirates: -$10.8 billion
- Qatar: -$8.1 billion
- Italy: -$6.7 billion
- Indonesia: -$6.2 billion
- Ireland: -$5.6 billion
- Chile: -$5.5 billion
- Vietnam: -$4.9 billion
Among Japan’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, Japanese deficits with Indonesia (up 49.3%) and Chile (up 18.3%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
Overall, Japan generated an overall $6.9 billion trade surplus for 2020 thus reversing -$15.1 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Based on Investopedia’s definition of net importer, a country whose total value of all imported goods is lower than its value of all exports is said to have a positive trade balance or surplus.
In 2020, Japan incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries.
- United States: US$47.2 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2020)
- Hong Kong: $31.2 billion
- South Korea: $18.1 billion
- Taiwan: $17.7 billion
- Singapore: $9.1 billion
- Netherlands: $7.8 billion
- United Kingdom: $4.4 billion
- India: $4.4 billion
- Panama: $4.1 billion
- Belgium: $3.3 billion
Among Japan’s trading partners that generate the greatest positive trade balances, Japanese surpluses with Taiwan (up 9.4%) and South Korea (up 8.7%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These positive cashflow streams clearly indicate Japan’s competitive advantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for Japan to develop country-specific strategies to optimize its overall position in international trade.
Companies Servicing Japanese Trading Partners
According to the Japan Import Export Directory, the following are examples of entrepreneurial companies that ship products from Japan to its trading partners around the globe. Shown within parenthesis is the product category that the Japanese business specializes in.
- Aiza Corporation Japan (consumer electronics)
- Akasaka Diesels Limited (marine engines, generators)
- Aktio Corp. (construction equipment)
- Fuji Latex Co., Ltd. (shock absorbers)
- Japan Algae Co., Ltd. (dietary supplements)
- Kiramek, Inc. (vehicle security products)
- Kyodo Co., Inc. (steel)
- Ochadokoro Sanwa (Japanese Green tea)
- TMO International Limited (gold, gemstones)
- Whn Co., Ltd. (new/used cars)
See also Japan’s Top 10 Imports, Japan’s Top 10 Exports, Top Japanese Trade Balances and Japan’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
Central Intelligence Agency, The World FactbookCountry Profiles. Accessed on February 13, 2021
IMPORTERS.com The Online Market for G20 Importers, Japan Import Export Directory. Accessed on February 13, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on February 13, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 13, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 13, 2021
Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on February 13, 2021