The nation’s trade surplus in fiscal 2001 fell 25.9 percent from the previous term to 7.11 trillion yen, marking the third consecutive year of decline, the Finance Ministry said Monday in a preliminary report.

The decline, the largest since the 30.1 percent fall in fiscal 1996, was due to a global economic slump centered on the information technology sector, which decreased Japan’s exports as well as imports, a ministry official said.

Dogged by the global slump, Japan’s politically sensitive trade surplus with the United States fell 5.1 percent to 7.14 trillion yen, marking the first drop in five years.

The trade deficit with China, meanwhile, jumped 17.5 percent to a record 3.27 trillion yen, partly reflecting Japanese manufacturers efforts to shift production to China, the official said. While the overall trade surplus has now shrunk for three years in a row, the drop off seen in exports in recent months seems to be slowing down.

Indeed, exports in March posted a 3.1 percent year-on-year drop, compared with the double-digit decreases posted late last year.

It is difficult, however, to determine whether the country’s exports will continue to decline, the official said, because the figures depend on various factors, including foreign-exchange rates and oil prices.

In fiscal 2001, exports decreased 6.6 percent from the year earlier to 48.58 trillion yen, and imports also fell 2.3 percent to 41.47 trillion yen, leading to the overall contraction of the trade surplus.

Reflecting the IT slump, exports of semiconductors decreased 24.6 percent from the year before, while those of computers fell 12.7 percent. Imports of semiconductors and computers shrank by 22.8 percent and 10.6 percent, respectively.

The yen averaged 124.75 against the dollar in fiscal 2001, which is an 11.9 percent depreciation from the 109.89 the previous year.

The 5.1 percent decline in Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S. also reflects the IT-sector slowdown. Both exports and imports of computers and electric parts recorded double-digit year-on-year decreases for fiscal 2001.

For the same reason, the trade surplus with the European Union fell 34 percent on the year to 2.13 trillion yen, marking the third straight year of decline.

The surplus with other parts of Asia also shrank 46.1 percent to 1.97 trillion yen in fiscal 2001, marking the second consecutive year of decline.

In March alone, the trade surplus rose 39.3 percent from the year before to 1.26 trillion yen. The surge was due to a 12.7 percent decline in imports, which outpaced a 3.1 percent contraction of exports, the official said.

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