Ryohei Muramatsu, a Commerzbank analyst, said Japanese exports were unlikely to recover soon.

"It is difficult to foresee a rapid recovery unless the global financial crisis eases," he told the AFP news agency.

The country's heavy dependence on foreign markets has left its economy one of the worst affected by the global downturn, and Muramatsu said it was unlikely to improve until demand from the US and China picked up.

There was however some good news on Wednesday, with an 82.4 billion yen ($841m) trade surplus in February snapping a four-month streak of deficits, the finance ministry said.

The figure was a big improvement on January's deficit of 952.6 billion yen, the biggest negative trade balance since the government began keeping such data in 1979.

And it recorded its first trade surplus with China in six months as imports from China fell.

But February's 82.4 billion yen surplus was still down 91.2 per cent when compared with figures from a year ago as shipments of cars and parts to the US and Europe continued to fall, and exports of semiconductor components and steel to Asia also declined.