Soaring crude oil prices pushed Japanese imports to record highs in July, trimming the nation’s customs-cleared trade surplus for a fourth straight month, the Finance Ministry said Thursday.

Imports grew 11.6 percent in the reporting month from a year earlier to 4.662 trillion yen, while exports rose 4.3 percent to 5.535 trillion yen, the second-highest level on record, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

Exports rose for a 20th straight month, bolstered by robust exports to other Asian economies, while imports grew for a 17th consecutive month.

The trade surplus shrank 22.6 percent to 873.6 billion yen.

Imports of crude oil jumped 48.5 percent in terms of value amid record high crude oil prices in July on a customs-cleared basis, which stood at $53.2 per barrel, up 45 percent from a year earlier.

Some economists expect Japan’s trade surplus to keep shrinking in the latter half of this year, with the margin of decline depending on developments for crude oil and other raw materials prices.

The economists added that the data show a recovery in exports has spread to all major economies, most notably to China and Europe.

“We project the declining trend in the trade surplus will continue even if we expect pickups in exports in the second half of this year,” said Mamoru Yamazaki, senior economist at HSBC Securities (Japan) Ltd.

“The impact of high oil prices on the trade balances would more than offset pushup factors from expected growth in exports.” Yamazaki cited a forecast of 4 percent annualized growth in the U.S. economy for the July-September quarter.

According to the report, Japan’s trade surplus with the rest of Asia fell 9.8 percent to 676.2 billion yen, marking a ninth straight monthly decline.

Exports to Asia rose 2.5 percent to 2.696 trillion yen, up for the 41st month and the second-highest level on record.

Imports from Asia climbed 7.3 percent to 2.019 trillion yen, up for a 35th straight month.

Japan posted a 182.3 billion yen trade deficit with China, excluding Hong Kong, up 44.7 percent from a year earlier.

Exports to China grew 6.7 percent to 765 billion yen, rising for a fifth straight month. Imports from China gained 12.4 percent to 947.4 billion yen, up for a 40th consecutive month.

Japan’s trade surplus with the United States expanded 2.2 percent to 650.8 billion yen, marking a sixth straight monthly increase.

Exports to the United States increased 4.3 percent to 1.250 trillion yen, up for a sixth straight month, and imports from the U.S. climbed 6.6 percent to 600 billion yen, up for a second month.

The trade surplus with the European Union rose 7.4 percent to 264.4 billion yen, marking a first increase in three months.

Exports to the 25-nation bloc grew 1 percent to 785.8 billion yen, while imports dropped 2 percent to 521.5 billion yen.

The trade data are measured on a customs-cleared basis before adjustment for seasonal factors.

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