Japan’s exports and imports both hit record highs in the first half of 2006, while its customs-cleared trade surplus with the United States reached its highest level in 20 years, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday.

Exports rose 16.1 percent in the January-June period from a year earlier to 35.78 trillion yen, led by auto exports, on the back of strong economic growth worldwide, the ministry announced in a preliminary report.

Imports surged 22.9 percent to 32.37 trillion yen as soaring oil prices inflated the value of imports, it said.

Imports of crude oil jumped 57.5 percent in value terms to 5.66 trillion yen as oil prices rose 37.7 percent to a record average price of $62.20 per barrel in the reporting period on a customs-cleared basis.

Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S. expanded 17.4 percent to 4.23 trillion yen, the biggest trade gap between the two countries since the second half of 1986 and the fifth-biggest on record.

Exports to the United States increased 15.9 percent to a record 8.09 trillion yen, while imports climbed 14.3 percent to 3.86 trillion yen.

Japan’s imports from the rest of Asia came to a record 14.05 trillion yen, up 17.9 percent. Exports to the region rose 14.0 percent to 16.93 trillion yen, the second-highest level on record.

Japan’s trade surplus with Asia thus narrowed by 1.9 percent from a year earlier to 2.89 trillion yen.

Exports to China, excluding Hong Kong, expanded 26.1 percent to a record 4.96 trillion yen, while imports rose 16.2 percent to 6.52 trillion yen, also a new high.

The trade deficit with China, excluding Hong Kong, fell 6.9 percent to 1.57 trillion yen.

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