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Japan’s customs-cleared trade surplus for July climbed 69.7 percent from a year earlier to 849.1 billion yen, the fourth straight month of increase, according to provisional figures released Aug. 18 by the Finance Ministry.

Ministry officials said the 2 percentage point hike in the consumption tax in April continues to affect the trade figures for automobiles and clothing.

Exports for the month grew 12.1 percent from July last year to 4.29 trillion yen, marking the 24th straight month of increase.

Imports rose a scant 3.4 percent to 3.44 trillion yen. Although imports marked a 39th consecutive monthly increase, it was the smallest growth since a 3.8 percent rise in June 1995, according to the Finance Ministry.

The politically sensitive surplus with the United States rose 35.7 percent to 420.5 billion yen, the tenth consecutive month of increase.

A ministry official tried to play down the latest statistics, saying he does not foresee a situation where the surplus will “continue to log significant increases” given structural changes in the Japanese economy, such as a rise in overseas production and an increase in imports of manufactured goods.

The figures were calculated based on a foreign exchange rate of 114.09 yen to the dollar compared with 109.60 yen a year earlier, but ministry officials maintained it is difficult to analyze the effects of exchange rates alone on the trade figures.

Auto exports rose 32.3 percent in value terms and 28.1 percent in volume terms, while exports of office machinery increased by 10.3 percent.

Auto imports meanwhile fell 26.7 percent from a year earlier. Aircraft imports rose 179.3 percent, while meat imports grew 36.5 percent in year-on-year terms.

Exports to the U.S. rose 11.8 percent to 1.19 trillion yen, while imports grew by a mere 2 percent to 773.1 billion yen.

A 19.1 percent rise was seen in U.S.-bound auto exports, and exports of office machinery and optical equipment rose 13 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

Auto imports from the U.S., in contrast, fell 33.6 percent from a year earlier. Imports of aircraft meanwhile grew by 194.1 percent.

The nation’s trade surplus vis-a-vis the European Union surged 156.4 percent from July last year to 140.5 billion yen, logging the fourth straight month of increase.

Exports to the region grew 17 percent to 633.4 billion yen, while imports during the same period increased by a mere 1.3 percent to 492.8 billion yen — nevertheless the first rise in four months.

Japanese auto exports to the EU grew 57.5 percent, while exports of visual apparatus increased by 32 percent.

Meat imports from the EU leaped 673.4 percent, but the value of imports fell for autos, telecommunications apparatus and clothing and clothing accessories, which dropped 21.2 percent, 61.1 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively.

Japan’s surplus with Asia rose 23.5 percent from a year earlier to 581.8 billion yen, the fourth straight month of increase.

Exports to the region came to 1.82 trillion yen, a rise of 8.1 percent, while imports recorded a 2.1 percent increase to 1.24 trillion yen.

Exports of semiconductors and other electronics parts grew 11.4 percent. Auto exports to Asia rose 27.7 percent.

A notable 21.1 percent increase was seen in the import of chips and other electronic parts from the region.

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