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Japan recorded a trade surplus of ¥68.95 billion in April, down 85.0 percent from a year earlier amid recent signs of a bottoming out in exports, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday.

Exports fell 39.1 percent to ¥4.2 trillion, while imports shrank 35.8 percent to ¥4.13 trillion, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

Despite the huge declines on a year-to-year basis, the trade balance was in the black for the third straight month, following a record deficit in January.

The report provides another sign that the pace of decline in exports to major trading partners since last autumn has slowed.

The margin of decline in exports narrowed for the second straight month, driven by renewed demand for key products such as automobiles and electronics devices.

Earlier this week, the government upgraded its assessment of the economy for the first time since February 2006, citing a gradual pickup in external demand and falling corporate inventories.

“The fall in exports was smaller than we had expected,” said Saori Tsuiki, an economist at the Mitsubishi Research Institute. “We did not think it would fall below 40 percent in April and it is good that there are signs of recovery in exports, in particular to other Asian economies.

But, “It’s still a big slump,” Tsuiki said. “It is too early to say exports are gaining steam.”

Exports to China fell 25.8 percent on year to ¥814.53 billion, contracting for the third straight month from a record fall of 45.2 percent in January.

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