International container shipments handled at Japan's main ports will increase marginally this financial year with growth expected to slow slightly next year, according to a report released this week by a leading Japanese think-tank. The Nittsu Research Centre projects that foreign box shipments will climb 2.4 per cent to March, with next year posting 1.5 per cent comparative growth. Foreign containerised volume reached almost 180 million tonnes in the last financial year, or about 25 per cent of Japan's maritime trade. The 40-year-old research centre, a subsidiary of the country's largest global integrator Nippon Express, says Japan's economy will continue down an uncertain path, with growth rates below 1 per cent projected for this year and next. Containerised exports at Japan's eight major ports next year are forecast to rise a comparative 1.8 per cent, mainly due to the burgeoning intra-Asia trade lanes. Imports are expected to fair less well, growing 1.3 per cent under pressure from sluggish domestic demand for key commodities such as foodstuff, consumer goods and machinery, according to the centre. Growth in exports by air, which surged this year due to the lock out at seaports on the west coast of the United States, is expected to decline to about 5 per cent next year against a strong base comparison.