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The trade surplus ballooned 95.5 percent to 200.5 billion yen in August from the previous year, logging its first increase in three months due mainly to brisk auto exports to the United States, the Finance Ministry said Thursday.

The uptrend in exports stretched into its 33rd month, rising 17.7 percent to 6.14 trillion yen, the ministry said in a preliminary report. Imports continued upward as well, rising 16.1 percent to a record-high 5.94 trillion yen.

Crude oil imports climbed 32 percent to 1.14 trillion yen, the third-highest level since May 1981, at an average record-high price of $71.8 per barrel on a customs-cleared basis, up 29.4 percent from last August.

Despite rising oil prices, Japan’s trade surplus made a surprising expansion on a year-on-year basis because there was relatively small export growth in August 2005, a ministry official said.

August’s robust auto exports to the United States also wiped out concern that Japan’s exports there will falter in line with an expected slowdown in the U.S. economy, Aida said.

According to the report, Japan’s trade surplus with the rest of Asia grew 28.5 percent to 521.6 billion yen, up for the fourth month in a row.

Exports to other Asian economies rose 13.5 percent to 2.99 trillion yen on brisk demand for nonferrous materials, such as copper, while imports from those countries rose 10.8 percent to 2.47 trillion yen.

In trade with China, excluding Hong Kong, exports jumped 20.0 percent to 909 billion yen and imports rose 12.0 percent to 1.17 trillion yen.

As a result, the trade deficit with China dropped for its fourth month straight, down 9.1 percent.

The trade surplus with the United States climbed 29.0 percent to 626.8 billion yen, rising for a 19th consecutive month.

Exports to the United States surged 19.3 percent to 1.33 trillion yen, propelled by auto exports, up 49.3 percent — the biggest increase since January 1997.

Imports from the United States gained 11.8 percent to 701.9 billion yen, due mainly to purchases of large aircraft and aircraft engines.

The trade surplus with the European Union expanded for the 10th straight month, up 71.3 percent to 248.3 billion yen.

Exports to the 25-nation bloc climbed 18.0 percent to 851.2 billion yen, and imports expanded 4.6 percent to 602.8 billion yen.

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