Japan's exports drop for first time in 16 months

Employees of Toyota Motor Corporation work during the assembly process at the company's Takaoka Plant on December 2, 2005 in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, Japan.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Today we learned Japanese exports fell in March for the first time in more than a year. Last month's earthquake and tsunami are of course to blame. Shipments of Japanese cars to other countries fell dramatically.

We continue with our coverage of the human and economic toll with the BBC's Roland Buerk, in Tokyo. Hi Roland.

ROLAND BUERK: Hi.

CHIOTAKIS: So this is all about the tsunami and quake damaging factories and slowing supplies?

BUERK: Yes that's right. If you think of Japan you think of the big, sophisticated companies. But the process of making things like cars begins with small, often family run, factories. They make the components that go into the cars. And of course, along the northeast coast they've been destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami. In other places, production has been slowed by electricity shortages. So that has broken supply chains and we're seeing the result of that in the export figures.

CHIOTAKIS: I'm curious Roland. Are American manufacturers picking up the slack here?

BUERK: Well, there certainly is potential for that. And in the long run, there'll be room for American manufacturers to come in for the rebuilding with things like wood and machinery to rebuild houses. But remember this too -- Japan also supplies American companies. And factories in the United States. So we've seen Toyota is going to have its factories in North America closed on Mondays and Fridays up until June. Even a company like Harley-Davidson, a company that seems to be an iconically American, well that needs some Japanese components too. So they're affected as well.

CHIOTAKIS: The BBC's Roland Buerk in Toyko. Roland thank you.

BUERK: Thank you.

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