Port of Nagoya displaced as nation’s largest exporter

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An aerial view of the Port of Nagoya in Tokai, Aichi Prefecture

NAGOYA — The Port of Nagoya has lost its crown as the nation’s largest exporter of goods, falling from top spot for the first time in 10 years in the wake of a production cut by Toyota Motor Corp.

Toyota’s output had been on track to recover, but a production cut in the second half of last year caused by a shortage of semiconductors and other parts impacted heavily on the port’s figures. Narita Airport now tops the goods-exporting table.

Impact of S.E. Asia infections

“The production cuts have had a significant impact” said an official of a logistics company that transports Toyota-related products. “[Toyota] will lower output again next month, and we can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future.” Marine transport volume has decreased since Toyota was forced to drastically curtail production in September, the official said.

According to Finance Ministry trade statistics for 2021, export volume at the port increased 19.9% from the previous year to ¥12.48 trillion. These figures are the highest of the last decade, surpassing ¥12.31 trillion in 2019 — the year before the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Exports of new cars to the United States and China were strong, thanks to a rebound in demand for new cars amid the pandemic.

Toyota, however, was forced to slash output at its domestic plants by more than 600,000 units in September and October due a parts shortage caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus in Southeast Asia.

Had Toyota not cut production, new vehicle exports would likely have grown even faster. The carmaker was forced to reduce output on a sporadic basis as another semiconductor shortage hit in December.

A sharp early-year increase in the number of people infected with coronavirus, including the omicron variant, has also driven down new vehicle production.

On Jan. 20, Toyota announced it would deactivate up to 21 lines at 11 domestic plants for three days — Jan. 21-22 and Jan. 24 — due to semiconductor shortages and infections at part-making suppliers.

The company, which expects to pare production by 47,000 units in January, plans to reduce domestic output in February by 70,000 to 80,000 units.

Competing with Narita Airport

When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in 2011, Narita Airport’s export volume stood at ¥9.2 trillion, while the Port of Nagoya registered ¥9 trillion. From 2012 onward, export volume at the port surpassed that of Narita Airport, thanks to a rise in car exports on the back of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s yen-weakening economic policies.

In 2014, the port’s export volume was ¥3.3 trillion higher than Narita Airport’s.

Yet, in recent years, exports of electronic devices such as smartphones and game consoles have surged at Narita Airport due to increasing overseas demand, narrowing the gap with the port.

Slow recovery at Chubu Airport

Chubu Airport has struggled to recover from the impact of the novel coronavirus.

Its export volume for 2021 increased by 48% to ¥1.19 trillion. However, international cargo volume handled by the airport in fiscal 2021 is expected to be about 40% lower than in fiscal 2019.

Chubu Airport trails far behind Narita Airport, which is expected to increase its international cargo handling volume by more than 20%.

The number of passenger planes carrying belly cargo, in which cargo containers are loaded into the bottom of a plane’s fuselage, plummeted to 17 round-trip flights in January this year from 486 round-trip flights per week in January 2020, owing to a slump in passenger flights.

“We were unable to exploit opportunities when demand for air transportation was strong, and this lack of supply meant business flowed out to other airports in the Tokyo metropolitan area,” said Riki Inuzuka, president of Central Japan International Airport Co., which operates the Chubu Airport.

With no prospect of a recovery in passenger flights, Chubu Airport plans to increase flight numbers by switching belly-cargo flights to cargo-only flights.