The auto industry is the largest U.S. importer of goods shipped via container transport from Japan. In 2010 it accounted for 28% of the total U.S. imports of this commodity globally. Thus this industry faces the greatest threat of disruption as Japan's industrial output struggles following the devastating earthquake and tsunami, according to data and analysis from The Journal of Commerce/PIERS.
Japan is the No. 3 exporter of containerized goods to the United States, according to PIERS data, behind China and Korea. The country is second, behind only China, as an importer from the U.S., based on container volume measured by PIERS data.
Mario Moreno, economist for The Journal of Commerce, said Japanese exports "will weaken in the months ahead as the closing of several manufacturing plants prompted by electricity shortages, combines with severely damaged roads and bridges to hamper production."
He points out that although three Japanese ports -- Sendai, Hitachinaka and Kashima -- have remained closed since the disaster on the northeastern coast, the country's largest ports, including Tokyo, Kobe and Yokohama in the industrial southern part of the country were open this week and handling commercial vessels.
Last year's imports of auto parts from Japan rose 22%, boosted by solid gains in U.S. auto sales, according to PIERS data. The increase was already slowing in 2011, growing by only 3%, year over year in January 2011 versus 2010.
"The positive trend is unlikely to continue," says Moreno. "U.S. car manufacturers, like Toyota, must meet strict specifications and use Toyota-made auto parts only." Moreno's forecast issued in December anticipated a 2.5% decline in U.S. containerized imports from Japan, coming off high volumes in 2010.
Japan's bilateral trade includes China as its top export market, with 21% of its total exports in 2010, while the U.S. accounted for 17. Japan's export to China was $598 billion in 2010, up 36% from 2009, and exports to the U.S. totaled $482 billion, up by 26% from 2009.