Japan’s current account surplus rose in April for the first time in two months, up 15.1 percent from a year earlier to 1.256 trillion yen, due partly to the effects of the SARS epidemic, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday.

The chronic deficit in the balance of services trade shrank 29.3 percent from a year earlier to 378.6 billion yen, reflecting a 42 percent plunge in the number of Japanese traveling overseas from the year before, the ministry said.

The decline in overseas travel is believed to have been due to the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic, a ministry official said. Travelers may have also been wary because of the Iraq war.

The smaller deficit in the balance of services pushed up the balance of trade in goods and services by 32.5 percent to 615.2 billion yen, the first increase in two months, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

The surplus in merchandise trade shrank 0.6 percent to 993.8 billion yen, down for two months in a row, after growth in imports outpaced that of exports, it said.

Exports expanded 5.3 percent to 4.391 trillion yen, posting the 13th consecutive monthly increase. Although exports to the United States shrank 7.5 percent, those to the European Union were up 12.7 percent, while exports to other parts of Asia increased 10.4 percent.

Imports grew at a faster pace, rising 7.1 percent to 3.397 trillion yen for the eighth straight month of increase. Crude oil imports rose.

Imports from Asia increased 6.2 percent and were up 1.6 percent from the EU, but imports from the U.S. fell 2.9 percent.

The income account, covering income from Japanese investments in foreign securities and payments by foreign employers in Japan, registered a surplus of 700.9 billion yen, up from 674.2 billion yen the year before.

The current account balance — the broadest gauge of trade in goods and services — is the difference between income from foreign sources and foreign obligations payable, excluding net capital investment.

The ministry said in a separate report that the current account surplus with the rest of Asia in calendar 2002 more than doubled from a year earlier, rising 132.3 percent to 4.3899 trillion yen.

The current account deficit with China shrank to 2.464 trillion yen from a record 3.001 trillion yen in 2001, the ministry said.

The surplus with the U.S. came to 10.295 trillion yen, up 2.8 percent, while that with the EU fell 9.8 percent to 2.698 trillion yen.

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