Japan’s trade surplus jumped 20.4 percent in February from a year earlier, marking the first rise in two months, as robust growth of exports to other parts of Asia overwhelmed imports, the Finance Ministry said Monday in a preliminary report.

But the trade surplus with the United States was down for the second consecutive month, partly due to a steep increase in the value of the yen against the dollar, ministry officials said.

Japan’s overall customs-cleared trade surplus — exports minus imports — came to 936.2 billion yen.

Exports posted a year-on-year rise of 7.6 percent to 4.33 trillion yen, up for the 11th consecutive month.

Imports rose 4.5 percent to 3.39 trillion yen, up for the sixth straight month, as crude oil and petroleum products drew buyers amid rising tensions over the war on Iraq, ministry officials said.

The overall trade surplus was attributed to increases with other parts of Asia, particularly China. The surplus with Asia hit 561.4 billion yen, up 205.7 percent from the previous year and the 12th consecutive month it has risen.

The sharp increase in February was backed by exports of automobiles, up 91.8 percent from a year earlier. Japan’s exports of cars to China surged 571.6 percent from the previous year.

The surplus with the EU was up 27.3 percent to 280.9 billion yen, also helped by vehicle exports.

The surplus with the U.S. meanwhile fell 14.2 percent to 567.4 billion yen. Exports slid 13.6 percent to 1.09 trillion yen in February, and imports slipped 13 percent to 519.7 billion yen.

Vehicle exports to the U.S. fell for the first time in six months, partly due to the yen’s sharp appreciation against the dollar, officials said. The yen averaged 119.26 against the dollar in February, up 11.8 percent from a year earlier.

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