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The nation’s customs-cleared trade surplus for the first six months of the current fiscal year came to 5.1 trillion yen, up 75.9 percent from the same period last year, according to provisional figures released Oct. 20.It was the first time the figure rose in year-on-year terms since the latter half of fiscal 1992, Finance Ministry officials said, adding that the slowdown in the domestic economy due to such factors as the April consumption tax increase was one reason behind the surge.”In the short term, we cannot deny the possibility that the trade surplus will continue to grow,” one official acknowledged. But the ministry maintained its position that structural changes in the Japanese economy indicate that there would be no significant rise in the figure in the mid-to-long term. The figures also were affected by the yen’s depreciation during the year. The average exchange rate was calculated at 119.01 yen to the dollar compared with 107.95 yen for the same period last year.The continued rise in the nation’s external surpluses is a major concern among Japan’s trading partners, especially the United States, which have indicated their desire for Tokyo to take steps to stimulate domestic demand. Exports rose 15.6 percent to 25.29 trillion yen, buoyed by a 34.5 percent surge in auto exports and a 19 percent increase in exports of office equipment. Imports for the six months grew 6.4 percent to 20.19 trillion yen, helped by a 14.5 percent rise in oil imports.The surplus with the U.S. expanded for the second straight six-month span, rising 55.3 percent to 2.42 trillion yen as the 17.1 percent increase in exports overshadowed the slight 3.4 percent growth in imports. U.S.-bound autos increased 27.4 percent, while exports of office equipment rose 18.2 percent and that of scientific optical machinery 21.3 percent.Although there were notable increases of 60 percent in imports of aircraft and 19.4 percent in office equipment, imports of meat fell 12.7 percent, lumber 18.6 percent and autos 22.9 percent during the period in year-on-year terms.Vis-a-vis the European Union, the trade surplus increased for the first time in five years, logging a 110.9 percent rise from the first half of fiscal 1996 to 1.15 trillion yen. Exports to the region grew 17.8 percent to 3.84 trillion yen, boosted by a 47.5 percent rise in auto exports and a 17.3 percent increase in exports of office equipment. But imports declined for the first time in 3 1/2 years, falling 0.8 percent to 2.7 trillion yen as imports of autos decreased 15 percent and telecommunications imports fell 49.8 percent.

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