Japan's exports grew at their slowest pace this year in September, hit by cooling foreign demand and a strong yen.
Exports climbed 14.4 percent from a year earlier to 5.8 trillion yen ($72 billion), the Ministry of Finance said Monday. Imports rose 9.9 percent to 5.04 trillion yen.
The September figure underlined weakening global demand for Japanese goods. Earlier in the year, Japan's exports enjoyed stellar 50 to 60 percent growth as they bounced back from the previous year's slump amid robust growth in Asia.
Waning foreign demand poses a major risk to Japan's export-led economy. Exports alone account for around 15 percent of Japan's economic growth.
"The latest data showed falling global demand. Growth in Japanese exports is very likely to slow in the coming months because the global economy has yet to recover," said Hideki Matsumura, senior economist at Japan Research Institute, a think tank.
Apart from weak demand abroad, the government said a rising yen was also hurting Japanese exports.
A strong yen cuts the value of repatriated profits for Japanese exporters like Toyota Motor Corp. and Sony Corp., and makes their products less competitive abroad. The ministry said the yen in September strengthened about 9 percent against the dollar from the same period last year.
The ministry said the dollar averaged 84.66 yen in September. It is now trading at the 81 yen level, nearing a post World War II record low of 79.75 yen set in 1995.
"The rising yen will continue to squeeze Japanese exports and pressure earnings of Japanese exporters," Matsumura said.
Exports to China, Japan's biggest trading partner, increased 10.3 percent in September from a year earlier, the ministry said. While Japanese exports to China rose for the 11th straight month, the September result marked the lowest growth since November 2009 when exports rose 7.8 percent.
Japan's exports to Asia increased 14.3 percent _ the weakest growth in 2010.
U.S.-bound shipments grew 10.4 percent, while those to the European Union rose 11.2 percent in the month.