• Kyodo

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Japan logged a ¥1.04 trillion ($9.3 billion) trade surplus in the first half as exports surged to Asia, but their value shrank from a year ago as imports of crude oil grew, government data showed Thursday.

In the January-June half, exports rose 9.5 percent to ¥37.79 trillion, lifted by shipments of semiconductor equipment, auto parts and iron and steel. Imports rose 12.2 percent to ¥36.74 trillion in value terms.

The trade surplus is Japan’s third straight for a six-month period. Compared with a year ago, however, the surplus shrank 41.1 percent due in large part to a surge in the value of oil imports. Resource-scarce Japan relies heavily on energy imports.

The value of crude oil imports surged 36.9 percent from a year ago to ¥3.54 trillion, with oil prices averaging $54.3 a barrel in the first half, up 47.9 percent from a year earlier, the Finance Ministry said.

International trade has increasingly been under the spotlight since U.S. President Donald Trump began calling for “fair” trade as part of his “America First” agenda.

Japan ran a trade surplus of ¥3.22 trillion with the United States in the period as exports gained 2.9 percent to ¥7.25 trillion and imports jumped 10.7 percent to ¥4.03 trillion.

As trade data are influenced by economic conditions and currency movements, “We will continue to monitor developments carefully,” a ministry official said.

Earlier this month, Trump raised the issue of America’s trade deficits with Japan when he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the two-day Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Abe expressed interest in advancing high-level economic dialogue using the bilateral framework set up earlier this year to discuss economic and other issues.

Robust shipments to other parts of Asia have lifted Japan’s export-reliant economy, which logged an annualized real 1.0 percent expansion in gross domestic product for the January-March quarter.

“The world economy has been in its expansion phase and Japan has been benefiting from increased exports . . . but the pace of growth is expected to slow in the second half of this year,” said Toru Suehiro, senior market economist at Mizuho Securities Co.

“As China’s recent GDP data shows, the economy has been expanding but the biggest concern is whether it will continue to grow further,” Suehiro added.

With major trading partner China, Japan had a trade deficit of ¥1.88 trillion after exports rose 17.7 percent to ¥6.94 trillion while imports climbed 3.9 percent to ¥8.81 trillion.

Japan’s trade surplus with the European Union stood at ¥34.34 billion in the first half. Exports rose 4.7 percent to ¥4.23 trillion and imports 3.8 percent to ¥4.20 trillion.

Japan and the European Union sealed a free trade deal just ahead of the G-20 gathering in an apparent show of resistance against protectionism.

In June alone, Japan had a trade surplus of ¥439.91 billion, after exports advanced 9.7 percent to ¥6.61 trillion and imports rose 15.5 percent to ¥6.17 trillion.

The trade figures were measured on a customs-cleared basis.

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