Malaysia said Wednesday exports sank 2.9 per cent in March from a year earlier due to poor demand from the US and Japan, hurting shipments of palm oil as well as electrical and electronic products.
March exports were valued at 60.01 billion ringgit ($20.2 billion), the trade ministry said in a statement. Imports rose 7.0 per cent to 54.93 billion ringgit.
Shipments to Japan decreased 3.2 per cent year-on-year amid weak demand for Malaysian electronic products, the ministry said.
Malaysia, Southeast Asia's third-largest economy, relies heavily on exports of its abundant natural resources but also some manufactured goods.
Exports to other Southeast Asian countries -- mainly electronic and refined petroleum products -- rose 3.0 per cent and accounted for 27.7 per cent of Malaysia's total shipments abroad.
Export activity to key trade partner United States slipped 5.8 per cent, while those to the European Union fell 5.5 per cent, due to the lingering eurozone debt problems.
The trade surplus for March narrowed to 5.08 billion ringgit from February's 8.21 billion, the ministry said.
Shipments for the first three months of 2013 slipped 2.4 per cent to 169.4 billion ringgit compared to the previous year.
Analysts have forecast exports to rebound this year on expectations the global economy may recover from the debt crisis in Europe, stagnant US growth, and China's slowdown.
Malaysia's economy grew a faster-than-expected 6.4 per cent in the fourth quarter, its best showing in more than two years, and expanded 5.6 per cent for full-year 2012.
The government has projected economic growth of 4.5-5.5 per cent this year.