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Japan’s customs-cleared trade surplus fell 41.6 percent in April from a year earlier to 665.9 billion yen, the Finance Ministry said Monday in a preliminary report.

April’s fall was the 10th consecutive month of decline in the trade surplus, according to the report.

Due to the U.S. economic slowdown, which has affected global demand, Japanese exports in April declined in value and volume, prompting the government to maintain its vigilance regarding export trends, a ministry official said.

In April, exports decreased 1.1 percent from the year before to 4.33 trillion yen, marking the first decline in the value of exports since October 1999.

The decline resulted from a 9.2 percent year-on-year decrease in the volume of exports, which marked a fourth straight month of decline, the official said.

Automobile exports posted a 5 percent slump on a value basis, while those of electronics parts, including semiconductors, marked a 7.2 percent contraction.

In contrast, imports registered a 13.2 percent year-on-year surge to 3.67 trillion yen, marking 18 straight months of increase.

This was due to the yen’s depreciation and a rise in oil prices in yen terms, which pushed up the value of imports, the official said.

The yen averaged 123.99 to the dollar in April, compared with 106.02 a year before. This depreciation edged up yen-based crude oil prices, which averaged 20,182 yen per kiloliter, higher than the 19,362 yen posted in March.

The politically sensitive trade surplus with the U.S. fell 7.4 percent to 669.8 billion yen in April for the fourth straight month of decline, with exports down 0.2 percent to 1.34 trillion yen and imports up 8.4 percent to 666.9 billion yen. The official said the decline in exports to the U.S. reflects the country’s economic slowdown.

In April, automobile exports to the U.S. fell 7.1 percent on a value basis and those of communications equipment were down 27.7 percent.

The U.S. slowdown also affected Japanese exports to other parts of Asia, the official said. In April, exports to the region were down 1.7 percent to 1.74 trillion yen, marking the first decline in 23 months.

This reduced Japan’s trade surplus with the region by 62.1 percent to 167.7 billion yen, although imports were up 18.5 percent to 1.57 trillion yen. The latter surge was led by information-technology related imports, such as computer parts, and imports of clothes from China.

The trade surplus with the 15-member European Union declined 18.9 percent to 281.8 billion yen in April, marking the eighth consecutive monthly fall, with exports dropping 4.8 percent to 714.3 billion yen and imports up 7.3 percent to 432.5 billion yen.

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