The nation’s trade surplus in fiscal 1999 fell 13.9 percent from the year before, its first decline in three years, as imports rose due to higher oil prices and a budding economic recovery.

But the politically sensitive trade surplus with the United States expanded 10.6 percent, its third consecutive year of rise, the Finance Ministry said in a preliminary report released Monday.

In March alone, the overall trade surplus fell 14.8 percent to 1.11 trillion yen, the first decline in two months. Exports, including electronic parts such as semiconductors, rose 9.1 percent. Imports, including crude oil, increased 19.5 percent.

The shrinking surplus trend is likely to continue for the time being, as a rise in imports is expected to outpace rising exports due to high oil prices, the strong yen and Japan’s economic recovery, a ministry official said.

In fiscal 1999, which ended last month, overall exports slipped 1.8 percent to 48.55 trillion yen for the second consecutive year of decline. This is attributable to the yen’s appreciation against the dollar, the official said. A stronger yen makes export values shrink after conversion from the dollar.

Imports increased 3 percent to 36.44 trillion yen, compared with a 11.4 percent plunge in the previous year. The balance of exports and imports resulted in a surplus of 12.1 trillion yen.

Exports of automobiles fell 10.3 percent and office equipment, such as personal computers, dropped 13.8 percent. Imports of crude oil surged 39.2 percent and electronic parts imports advanced 18.6 percent.

Crude oil prices averaged 14,516 yen per kiloliter in the year, 40.7 percent higher than fiscal 1998. The yen averaged 111.95 to the dollar, up 14.7 percent.

The increased surplus with the U.S., which rose of 7.37 trillion yen, was the result of a 2.5 percent slip in exports and a 12.9 percent plunge in imports. Exports of communication equipment soared 34.5 percent while imports of aircraft dived 43.2 percent.

The trade surplus with the rest of Asia rose 2.3 percent to 3.89 trillion yen, the first increase in two years. Exports, such as electronic parts, went up 9 percent while imports, such as office equipment, rose 10.9 percent.

With the 15-member European Union, the trade surplus plummeted 16 percent to 3.58 trillion yen, the first decline in three years. Exports shrank 8.6 percent, with cars down 18.5 percent. Imports went down 2.3 percent, with a 8.2 percent rise in cars.