Exports contracted 4.6 percent from a year earlier to US$28.1 billion last month, as falling shipments of non-tech products more than wiped out growth from electronics and communications devices, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday.

The tepid showing might persist through the end of the year, despite consumer electronics entering its high season, as the US-China trade dispute could make them more expensive and dampen sales, the ministry said.

“Major product categories slipped into contraction mode except for electronics and information and communication devices,” Department of Statistics Director-General Beatrice Tsai (蔡美娜) told a media briefing in Taipei.

The data reversed a 2.6 percent increase in August, indicating that a solid recovery is unlikely in the short term, Tsai said.

She predicted that exports would decline by between 2 and 3.5 percent for the current month and beyond.

Last month’s outbound shipments of electronics, mainly semiconductors, rose 2.4 percent to US$10.37 billion, aided by healthy demand for new-generation smartphones and upcoming 5G applications, Tsai said.

In addition, many local firms in Apple Inc’s iPhone 11 series supply chain benefitted from its better-than-expected market reception.

Exports of information and communications technology devices jumped 18.5 percent to US$3.61 billion, the ministry’s report showed.

However, that had more to do with trade rerouting rather than a pickup in demand, Tsai said.

Altogether, exports shrank 0.8 percent to US$85.03 billion during the July-to-September quarter from a year earlier, slightly deeper than the 0.1 percent retreat the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics forecast in August.

“That is because plastics, chemicals, minerals and base metal products continued to drag overall performance, with no sign of a turnaround,” Tsai said.

Shipments of machinery equipment also reported a double-digit decline last quarter, as customers in China and elsewhere refrained from capacity expansion or upgrade, she said.

Imports edged down 0.6 percent from a year earlier to US$24.97 billion last month, as companies turned cautious about buying raw materials, leaving a trade surplus of US$3.13 billion last month, the ministry said.

Imports of capital equipment soared 22.2 percent year-on-year, propelled mainly by semiconductor companies, suggesting that customers overseas are keen about 5G deployment, Tsai said.

For the third quarter, imports fell 3.2 percent to US$72.26 billion, allowing Taiwan to reap a 15.1 percent increase in trade surplus to US$12.78 billion, ministry data showed.

For the first nine months of the year, exports dropped 2.5 percent to US$242.3 billion, while imports contracted 1.2 percent to US$209.56 billion, the ministry said.

The trade surplus with the US gained another US$1.22 billion last month to US$8.52 billion for the first three quarters, ministry data showed.