NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's exports slid nearly 16 percent in January from a year earlier, their steepest fall in more than a decade, official data showed Monday, hit by a slump in demand in major global markets. The data released by the commerce ministry is a further sign that Asia's third-largest economy is starting to feel the full force of the widening global downturn that has hit the United States and Europe hard. Merchandise exports plunged 15.9 percent in January from the same month a year earlier to 12.38 billion dollars, marking the fourth straight monthly decline and the biggest percentage fall since 1998. Imports tumbled 18.2pc to 18.46b dollars in January, falling for the first time this fiscal year, as demand slowed in India's domestic economy. Oil imports plunged 47.5 percent from a year earlier to 4.46 billion dollars. The trade gap narrowed to 6.1 billion dollars in January from 7.8b dollars a year earlier. India's flagging export performance has prompted India to lower its export target for this fiscal year to March 31, citing the deepening global economic slowdown. The commerce ministry last week cut its export target for this year to $170-175b from an initial goal of $200b. "In an interconnected world, India cannot escape unscathed" from the global recession, India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said. India had logged 30pc year-on-year export growth between April and September last year. But foreign shipments started shrinking in Oct as the worldwide financial crisis deepened. Nath, however, set an export target for the 2009-10 financial year of $200b, the same as he had initially forecast for this financial year.