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Japan’s trade surplus in January grew almost fivefold from a year earlier as exports to China and other Asian economies expanded while imports from the United States dropped due to the ban on U.S. beef.

The merchandise trade surplus — exports minus imports — came to 507.1 billion yen, compared with 102.8 billion yen in January last year, marking the seventh consecutive monthly rise, the Finance Ministry said Monday.

“Overall exports usually decline in January because Japanese exporters take time off for the New Year’s holidays,” a ministry official said. “But this year, exports to Asia in particular kept up a brisk pace.”

Exports to Asia surged 20.8 percent to 1.98 trillion yen, having risen for 23 months in a row, on the back of strong demand of IC and semiconductor-manufacturing equipment.

Exports to China alone jumped 33.8 percent, led by demand of machineries and electronics.

Imports from Asia were up 4.3 percent at 1.73 trillion yen, marking the 17th consecutive monthly rise. The imports were buoyed by demand for memory cards and components of mobile phones and plasma television sets.

As a result, the trade surplus with Asia was 243.6 billion yen, marking the seventh consecutive month of increase. A year earlier, Japan posted a trade deficit of 25.8 billion yen with the region.

Meanwhile, the trade surplus with the U.S. climbed 3.9 percent to 494.1 billion yen, the first rise in 13 months.

The import ban on U.S. beef resulted in a 48.3 percent decline in meat imports from the country. Japan has kept the ban in place since late December, when the first and only case of mad cow disease in the U.S. was discovered.

Exports have declined for 13 straight months as Japanese automakers assembled more products at overseas plants amid the dollar’s fall against the yen. The dollar averaged 106.93 yen in January, against 119.73 yen in the same month last year.

All in all, exports to the U.S. fell 5.4 percent to 992.7 billion yen, while imports dropped 13.1 percent to 498.6 billion yen.

The trade surplus with the EU jumped 25.1 percent to 198.1 billion yen due to more imports of motorbikes, cars and digital cameras.

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