* March exports +16.7 pct y/y vs Reuters poll forecast +7.6 pct
* Exports to U.S. +4.3 pct y/y, to China +30.9 pct
* Govt says Q2 exports to post double-digit growth (Adds analyst comment, trade surplus details)
By Liang-Sa Loh
TAIPEI, April 9 (Reuters) - Taiwan’s exports rebounded in March to a record high in value terms, but escalating China-U.S. trade tensions pose a new risk to the island’s key technology sector.
Taiwan’s factories are a key part of the global supply chain for tech giants such as Apple Inc, and the economy is riding a robust export cycle on strong demand around the world for new smartphones and other gadgets. But it is deeply entwined with China’s electronic supply chain, making it highly vulnerable to collateral damage from U.S.-Sino trade barriers.
March exports rose 16.7 percent from a year earlier, government data showed on Monday, far better than a Reuters poll of analysts that had forecast growth of 7.6 percent. Exports in the first quarter rose 10.6 percent from a year earlier, the seventh quarterly growth in a row.
“Due to a steady recovery of the global economy, accelerated demand for new technology applications and mobile devices, as well as a hike in international raw material prices, March exports reached a record monthly high,” the finance ministry said in a statement.
Beatrice Tsai, director of the finance ministry’s statistics department, said exports in the second quarter were expected to exceed their original growth forecast of 8.6 percent and expand in the double digits.
Taiwan’s exports to China grew 30.9 percent in March from a year earlier versus a fall of 10.8 percent in February, while those to the United States rose 4.3 percent compared with a 12.6 percent expansion previously.
Exports to Europe and Japan were up 15.1 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively.
In the first quarter, exports to the two biggest markets, China and the United States rose 14.3 percent and 9.0 percent, respectively.
Imports in March climbed 10.4 percent from a year earlier, versus a median analyst forecast of 9.6 percent. It increased 11.3 percent in January-March.
The island’s overall trade surplus reached $6 billion in March, compared with $3.93 billion forecast in a Reuters poll and $2.92 billion in February.
Tsai said the larger surplus for March was due to much faster growth in exports than imports.
Its trade surplus with the United States was $286 million last month, totalling $1.01 billion in the first quarter. That compares to a $596 million surplus in January-March last year.
Kevin Wang, analyst at Taishin Investment Advisory, said strong export growth in March could be exceptional as the global recovery had already peaked.
“The forecast-beating March exports value could be due to early shipments as the market expected the tension between China and the U.S. will escalate,” Wang said.
Traditionally, the first quarter is Taiwan’s weakest for exports after the holiday season in the fourth quarter.
A trade war between China and the United States has heightened fears of a slowdown in global growth and potential fallout on manufacturers in the global supply chain.
Nomura said in a research note last week that U.S. trade barriers on high-tech products from China could hurt China’s parts suppliers - Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore – more than China itself.
Intermediate parts and goods supplied by Taiwan and ultimately exported by China as finished products account for 6.3 percent of Taiwan’s GDP, according to economists at Nomura. (Additional reporting by Jeanny Kao and Emily Chan; Writing by Twinnie Siu and Clare Jim; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)