Japan’s customs-cleared trade surplus for fiscal 1997 grew for the first time in five years, rising 79.7 percent from the previous year to 11.44 trillion yen, according to provisional figures released April 20 by the Finance Ministry.

The surge in the surplus was seen as the result of sluggish domestic demand, high economic activity abroad and a depreciated yen. The foreign exchange rate was put at 122.50 yen to the dollar in fiscal 1997, up from 111.9 yen the previous year.

The 11.7 percent increase in total exports, to 51.41 trillion yen, greatly overshadowed the 0.8 percent rise to 39.97 trillion yen logged for imports. Finance Ministry officials said they expect year-on-year growth in the surplus to continue for some time, but added that they maintain their position that there will be no significant mid- to long-term growth.

On the import side, imports of aircraft rose 68.2 percent, but auto and lumber imports fell 23.3 percent and 21.2 percent, respectively, largely due to feeble domestic demand.

The surplus against the United States increased for the first time in three years, growing 44.3 percent to 5.42 trillion yen.

Exports rose 14.8 percent to 14.54 trillion yen, while imports managed to climb 2.3 percent to 9.12 trillion yen. Auto exports to the U.S. increased 21.4 percent, and exports of scientific and optical apparatus rose 18.5 percent.

Vis-a-vis the European Union, exports rose 18.9 percent, to 8.29 trillion yen, while imports fell 4.2 percent to 5.32 trillion yen, resulting in a surplus of 2.97 trillion yen — 109 percent greater than the previous year and the first increase in five years.

EU-bound exports of autos expanded 37.4 percent and office equipment exports grew 15.2 percent, while imports of autos fell 20.1 percent and telecommunications equipment plunged 53.5 percent.

As for the rest of Asia, Japan exported 3.7 percent more in fiscal 1997 than the previous year, bringing the total value to 20.79 trillion yen. Imports grew 0.4 percent to 14.82 trillion yen.

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