Japan’s exports and imports hit record highs in the first half of 2004, underscoring solid growth in the Japanese and world economies, the Finance Ministry said Thursday.

Exports rose 12.5 percent in the January-June period from a year earlier to 29.60 trillion yen, while imports increased 6.6 percent to 23.42 trillion yen — both the highest levels since comparable data were made available in 1947, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

The trade surplus — exports minus imports — jumped 42.4 percent to 6.18 trillion yen, the 11th highest level on record and marking the second straight half-yearly increase.

Japan’s exports, imports and trade surplus with the rest of Asia all rose to the highest levels on record for the reporting period, with exports up 19.9 percent to 14.24 trillion yen and imports up 10.4 percent to 10.53 trillion yen, driving the trade surplus up 58.4 percent to 3.71 trillion yen.

Private-sector economists said the trade data show an upbeat environment, especially in Asia, for Japan’s exports, easing concern over a slowdown in China’s economy, which is an engine of world economic growth and a major production base.

“We have grown concerned that Japan’s economic recovery may be undermined by a slowdown in China’s economy,” said Masaaki Kanno, chief economist at J.P. Morgan Securities Asia Pte. Ltd. “But the data eased such concern as it shows a rising trend in Japan’s exports, notably to China and other Asian economies.”

Exports to China, excluding Hong Kong, climbed 24.2 percent to 3.8 trillion yen. Imports from the country, excluding Hong Kong, were also up 14.9 percent to 4.74 trillion yen.

China is Japan’s second-largest export market after the United States, and Japan imports more from China than anywhere else.

According to the report, Japan’s overall exports were led by semiconductors and other electronic parts, up 13.2 percent, and audiovisual parts such as liquid crystal displays used for TV sets and mobile phones, up 50.2 percent.

Main import items that saw big increases were coal, up 34.3 percent, and audiovisual equipment such as panels for digital cameras and plasma TVs, up 24.9 percent. Crude oil imports dipped 5.3 percent.

The trade surplus with the United States rose 2.6 percent to 3.29 trillion yen as exports fell 0.3 percent to 6.66 trillion yen and imports dropped 3.0 percent to 3.38 trillion yen.

Exports of auto parts rose 10.5 percent, while auto exports fell 9.2 percent.

Exports of office equipment, such as personal computer-related items, fell 6.8 percent and imports dropped 9.7 percent, indicating that the production base of such equipment has shifted to Asian economies from Japan and the United States.

Beef imports slumped 47.4 percent due to Japan’s ban on U.S. beef following the first discovery of mad cow disease in the country in December.

The trade surplus with the European Union climbed 8.4 percent to 1.57 trillion yen, with exports up 9.2 percent to 4.62 trillion yen and imports up 9.6 percent to 3.05 trillion yen.

Meat imports from the 25-nation bloc surged 54.8 percent as consumers switched from beef to pork amid jitters over mad cow disease.

In June alone, Japan’s exports and imports with the rest of the world marked the second-highest levels on record, with the trade surplus rising for the 12th straight month.

Exports rose 19.4 percent to 5.29 trillion yen and imports climbed 15.3 percent to 4.14 trillion yen, lifting the trade surplus 36.9 percent to 1.15 trillion yen. Exports to the rest of Asia rose 27.5 percent to 2.6 trillion yen.

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