Japan’s customs-cleared trade surplus for fiscal 1996 fell 29.6 percent from the previous year to 6.42 trillion yen, logging the fourth straight year of decline, according to figures released April 17.

It was the smallest surplus figure since fiscal 1983, when the surplus stood at 5.52 trillion yen, and less than half the record surplus of 14.4 trillion yen posted in fiscal 1986, Finance Ministry officials said. The politically sensitive surplus with the United States fell for the second year in a row, but trade figures for March released the same day showed that the surplus with the U.S. rose for the sixth straight month. “While growth in imports remains faster than that of exports, exports have been marking double-digit rises in recent months, indicating the pace at which the surplus is shrinking is slackening,” one official said.

In fact, the surplus fell a year-on-year 41.6 percent during the April-September period, but only dropped 15.2 percent during the remaining six months of the fiscal year, which ended March 31. Both exports and imports rose for the third straight year. Exports increased by 9.5 percent to 46.05 trillion yen, while imports surged 20.3 percent to 39.62 trillion yen, respectively.

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