The nation’s trade surplus in fiscal 2000 fell 20.6 percent from the previous 12 months to 9.61 trillion yen, marking the second consecutive year of decline, the Finance Ministry said Thursday in a preliminary report.

But while the overall surplus continued to shrink, that with the United States increased for the fourth year on a row, marking a 2.3 percent rise to 7.54 trillion yen.

The decline in the overall trade surplus was mainly due to higher oil prices during the 12 months beginning with April 2000. More expensive oil translates into a higher value for imports, a ministry official said.

During fiscal 2000, crude oil prices averaged 19,613 yen per kiloliter, up from 14,518 yen in fiscal 1999.

Trade with other countries, however, actually expanded during fiscal 2000, mainly due to then brisk economic conditions in the U.S. and other Asian economies.

Computers, semiconductors and electronic parts topped the list of the most traded goods during fiscal 2000.

Exports posted a 7.2 percent increase to 52.5 trillion yen — the first rise in three years. Imports also expanded, by 16.4 percent from fiscal 1999 to 42.4 trillion yen, marking the second year of increase.

On a regional basis, exports to the U.S. were up 5.2 percent to 15.54 trillion yen, while imports from the U.S. expanded 8 percent to 8 trillion yen, leading to the 2.3 percent rise in Japan’s surplus.

Trade with other Asian economies registered a record high for both exports and imports. Exports increased 15.5 percent to 21.47 trillion yen, while imports shot up 21.1 percent to 17.81 trillion yen.

Japan’s surplus with the rest of Asia declined 5.7 percent to 3.66 trillion yen, while that with the European Union fell 9.4 percent to 3.24 trillion yen.

Imports marked a 6.5 percent rise to 5.21 trillion yen, outpacing exports, which posted a 0.2 percent decline to 8.45 trillion yen.

Trade statistics for March, released the same day, show a 17.2 percent decrease to 915 billion yen in the overall trade surplus.

The decline, the ninth consecutive month of decrease since July, was mainly due to the yen’s depreciation to the dollar, which pushed up the value of imports, the official said.

Both exports and imports grew for the 17th consecutive month. Exports expanded 4.7 percent from March 2000 to a record 4.92 trillion yen, while imports also hit a record — 4.51 trillion yen — marking an 11.4 percent increase.

During the month, Japan’s currency averaged 118.04 yen to the dollar, an 8.2 percent depreciation compared with March 2000, the official said.

Under these circumstances, in which the growth in imports outpaces that in exports, the trade surplus is unlikely to grow for months to come, the official said.

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