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Japan’s current account surplus shrank 8 percent from a year earlier to 7.24 trillion yen in the first half of 2003, marking the first decline in three half-year periods, the Finance Ministry said Friday in a preliminary report.

The smaller surplus mainly came from a jump in imports, the value of which was affected by higher oil prices amid worries over the onset of the war in Iraq.

The import surge resulted in a smaller trade surplus. The current account surplus is the broadest gauge of trade in goods and services, including cross-border income.

Imports for the January-June period hit a record high 19.69 trillion yen, up 7.6 percent from a year earlier. The average oil price for the period was 22,094 yen per kiloliter, up 21.2 percent from the same period last year.

Exports for the same period rose 4.2 percent to 25.05 trillion yen, supported by growth in exports to other parts of Asia and to Europe.

Japan’s exports of automobiles to the United States have declined since February as automakers shifted their production overseas, the ministry said.

As a result, the trade surplus — exports minus imports — fell by 6.7 percent to 5.36 trillion yen.

The cross-border income surplus was also down, contributing to the smaller current account surplus for the half-year period. The income surplus stood at 4.17 trillion yen, down 8.7 percent from a year earlier, affected by slowdown in the overseas economy.

As for cross-border services, the deficit dropped 22.3 percent to 1.83 trillion yen, as the number of Japanese tourists going overseas declined by more than 20 percent.