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Japan’s trade surplus fell 26 percent in August from a year earlier to 576.1 billion yen, marking its first decline in 14 months as higher oil prices pushed up overall import prices, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday.

Despite a drop in the surplus, the nation’s exports expanded 10.4 percent to 4.78 trillion yen, the highest level for August, spurred by brisk demand from China and other Asian markets, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

Imports grew 18.4 percent to 4.21 trillion yen, the second-highest level on record since 1947.

Imports of crude oil jumped 33.7 percent in value terms, while those of oil-related products, including naphtha, went up 49.5 percent. Customs-cleared oil prices climbed 32.4 percent from a year earlier to $37.6 a barrel in August.

Private-sector economists expect Japan’s exports and imports to remain at high levels in terms of volume due to the steady growth in the world economy, but the trade surplus may become smaller in value terms in the coming months if crude oil prices stay at their present high levels.

The trade surplus with the United States dipped 0.2 percent to 472.1 billion yen, marking a first fall in three months, with exports up 2.3 percent to 1.02 trillion yen and imports up 4.6 percent to 552 billion yen.

Yukari Sato, chief economist at Credit Suisse First Boston Securities (Japan) Ltd., said higher oil prices have affected the U.S. economy, and that credit-tightening measures and the uncertain employment situation in the United States may create concern over the strength of Japan’s biggest export market.

Exports of audiovisual equipment to the U.S. market jumped 73.1 percent, while auto exports dropped 4.2 percent.

Meat imports slumped 51.8 percent due to Japan’s continued ban on U.S. beef, implemented following the discovery of mad cow disease in the country in December.

The trade surplus with the rest of Asia eased 0.01 percent to 538.3 billion yen for the first slide in 14 months, with exports up 13.9 percent to 2.40 trillion yen and imports up 18.7 percent to 1.86 trillion yen.

Exports to China, excluding Hong Kong, expanded 13.2 percent to 643.59 billion yen, while imports rose 21.3 percent to 849.61 billion yen, leaving a trade deficit of 206.02 billion yen, down 56.1 percent.

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

Exports to Asia were led by steel, up 20.5 percent. Among the top import items from the region was audiovisual equipment, which climbed 32.0 percent from a year earlier.

The trade surplus with the European Union rose 5.3 percent to 203.5 billion yen for the ninth straight monthly increase.

Exports climbed 10.3 percent to 727.0 billion yen. Imports from the 25-nation bloc increased 12.3 percent to 523.5 billion yen.

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