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The surplus in merchandise trade surged 51.3 percent in calendar 2002 from a year earlier to 9.93 trillion yen, the first rise in four years, due to a sharp increase in exports to the rest of Asia, the Finance Ministry said Monday in a preliminary report.

The customs-cleared trade surplus for 2002 — exports minus imports — saw the largest percentage of growth since 1984.

The jump was also a result of the slump in the global information technology industry in 2001, ministry officials said.

Overall exports registered a 6.4 percent increase to a record 52.11 trillion yen, the first increase in two years. Imports notched down 0.6 percent to 42.18 trillion yen, the first fall in three years.

By region, the surplus with other parts of Asia soared 134.7 percent from a year earlier to 4.1 trillion yen, mainly due to exports of electronics components, including semiconductors, iron and steel, and automobiles.

It was the largest percentage of growth since 1983, when the surplus skyrocketed 1,779.9 percent.

Meanwhile, trade with China grew dramatically, with exports rising 32.3 percent to a record 4.98 trillion yen and imports expanding 9.9 percent to 7.72 trillion yen, also a record.

Imports from China surpassed those from the United States for the first time ever, the officials said.

Japan’s surplus with the U.S. in 2002 jumped 8.6 percent from a year before to 7.65 trillion yen, the first increase in two years.

The surplus with the European Union dropped 9.3 percent to 2.18 trillion yen for the fourth straight year of decrease.

The yen averaged 125.61 against the dollar in 2002, compared with 120.95 a year earlier. A weaker yen lowers prices of Japanese products overseas, and thus increases competitiveness of the goods.

In December alone, the trade surplus growth was slower, hit by a rise in oil prices. The surplus was up 19.9 percent in December from a year earlier to 791 billion yen. for the 10th consecutive year of increase.

While exports rose 15.1 percent to 4.56 trillion yen, imports climbed 14.1 percent to 3.77 trillion yen, as the higher oil prices increased import prices.

The averaged yen rate against the dollar for the month came to 122.81, compared with 124.54 a year earlier.

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