The nation’s customs-cleared trade surplus for the month of May soared 222.2 percent from the same period last year to 738.3 billion yen, marking the second straight month of increase, according to figures released June 18.

The preliminary figures announced by the Finance Ministry also showed that the surplus with the United States rose 93 percent, while the one with the European Union surged 230.5 percent. The growth in the surplus was affected by the 2-percentage point increase in the consumption tax implemented in April, ministry officials said, claiming further monitoring of trade figures would be needed before it could be determined whether there had been a change in the declining trend of the surplus.

The adverse effect of the tax hike on domestic consumption could be seen in the fall of imports of automobiles and clothing, which registered year-on-year decreases of 16.3 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively. Coupled with the recent rise in the country’s current account surplus, the growth in Japan’s external surpluses has fueled concerns from other nations, including the U.S.

But government officials stress that structural changes such as increased overseas production by Japanese firms have made it unlikely that the surpluses will reach the levels that caused trade friction in the past. Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka later told a news conference that he believes the structural changes that have brought about a decline in external surpluses would continue to work.

He said he would ask his counterparts from the Group of Seven industrialized countries when they convene later this week in Denver to view the situation from a longer-term perspective. He added that he was confident they would understand.

Total exports for the month rose 20.5 percent to 4.1 trillion yen, marking the 22nd straight month of increase, while imports grew 6 percent to 3.37 trillion yen, rising for the 37th consecutive month.

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