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Japan’s current account surplus grew 33.8 percent in 2002 from a year earlier, marking the first rise in four years, mainly due to a jump in exports to other parts of Asia, the Finance Ministry said Monday.

In December alone, however, the current account surplus fell 1.4 percent year-on-year, the first decline in three months, as brisk exports failed to make up for a fall in repatriated income, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

The current account is the broadest gauge of trade, measuring the difference between a country’s income from foreign sources and foreign obligations payable, excluding net capital investment. It combines trade, services, income and current transfers.

Last year’s current account surplus was 14.25 trillion yen, as exports to China grew sharply amid its rapid economic growth and Japanese corporations’ transfer of manufacturing plants to China, ministry officials said.

Thanks to the export growth, the surplus in the trade balance marked a record 37.5 percent rise to 11.73 trillion yen, more than offsetting a deficit in services. As a result, a surplus in goods and services last year surged 104.4 percent from the previous year to 6.57 trillion yen, scoring the largest percentage growth since 1997.

The deficit in services mainly came from an increase in the number of Japanese tourists heading overseas. The increase followed a sharp fall in 2001 stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Exports to Asia marked a 13.7 percent rise from the previous year, while exports to the U.S. rose 1 percent and those to the European Union fell 2 percent.

By item, exports of automobiles showed 21.7 percent growth and those of iron and steel rose 17.6 percent.

In December, the current account surplus came to 892.9 billion yen. The 1.4 percent fall in the surplus stemmed mainly from a smaller surplus in the income account, which covers investments in foreign securities and payments of salaries by foreign employers in Japan.

The income account surplus posted 507.8 billion yen, down from 563.9 billion yen a year earlier.

On the other hand, the surplus in goods and services rose 9.3 percent to 471.3 billion yen, as exports to other parts of Asia increased sharply and offset a larger deficit in services.

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