The highest decline in Japanese exports since the 2009 global financial crisis was reported for April as the coronavirus pandemic stalled global demand for cars, industrial materials, and other goods, potentially pushing the world's third largest economy into recession.
Poor trade figures come as policymakers seek to strike a balance between measures to contain the virus and the need to revive affected parts of the economy, with the risk of a second wave of infections complicating this challenge.
The central bank will hold an emergency meeting on Friday to devise a plan that will encourage financial institutions to lend to smaller firms. Policymakers are also considering pumping money into companies of all sizes.
Thursday's data shows that Japan’s exports fell 21.9% in April on an annual basis as shipments to the United States fell 37.8%, the fastest drop since 2009, with auto exports declining by 65.8%.
Global automakers are struggling to cope with the health crisis, as car sales have been disrupted by closures in many countries. Toyota expects an 80% decrease in operating profit for the entire year, while Mitsubishi has announced an 89% decrease in annual profits.
The decline in overall shipments is the largest since October 2009 during the global financial crisis.
Exports to China, Japan's largest trading partner, fell 4.1% in the year to April, due to lower demand for chemicals, auto parts and medicines.
Shipments to Asia, which account for more than half of Japanese exports, decreased by 11.4%, and exports to the European Union decreased by 28.0%.