The nation’s customs-cleared trade surplus for the month of February rose for the first time in over two years, increasing 6.5 percent from the same period last year to 686.7 billion yen, preliminary figures released Mar. 17 showed.

Finance Ministry officials said that while growth in imports continues to outpace that of exports, the latter has generally been logging double-digit rises recently. “Thus, we can believe that the pace at which the trade surplus is shrinking has begun to slacken,” one official said in assessing the first increase in the surplus since November 1994. Until last month, the ministry had been repeating its position that the downward trend in the surplus was continuing.

On a regional basis, the trade surplus with the United States rose for the fifth straight month, increasing 12.3 percent to 407.3 billion yen. Growth in exports to the U.S., at 11.4 percent, was greater than the 10.9 percent rise in imports. Auto exports to the U.S. logged a year-on-year increase of 15.4 percent.

Vis-a-vis the European Union, Japan’s trade surplus increased for the second straight month, rising 3.2 percent to 199.6 billion yen. The trade surplus with Asia grew for the first time in three months, jumping 20.2 percent to 494.2 billion yen. The Finance Ministry said it was the first time in 27 months that the surpluses for these three regions all marked year-on-year increases.

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