• Kyodo

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Robust exports brought Japan a goods trade surplus of ¥2.99 trillion ($27 billion) in 2017, the second straight year of black ink, even as imports surged amid higher energy prices, government data showed Wednesday.

Exports jumped 11.8 percent to ¥78.29 trillion, reflecting an increase in Asian shipments to a record high, while imports surged 14 percent to ¥75.30 trillion, according to preliminary data from the Finance Ministry.

The surplus, however, was 25.1 percent lower than in 2016.

For the past year, Japan has seen rising exports on the back of stronger overseas demand for products such as semiconductor manufacturing equipment and cars. This has helped the trade-reliant economy stay in what is widely seen as its second-longest postwar expansion cycle.

But rising oil and other energy prices and the yen’s depreciation have boosted the value of imports.

The value of crude oil imports totaled ¥7.15 trillion, up 29.3 percent from a year earlier and the first gain in four years.

Japan ran a trade surplus of ¥7.04 trillion with the United States, logging the first year-on-year increase in two years.

Exports rose 6.8 percent to ¥15.11 trillion and imports gained 10.3 percent to ¥8.08 trillion.

Bilateral trade has become a sensitive issue since U.S. President Donald Trump took office a year ago, pushing an “America first” agenda and making an issue of massive trade deficits with major exporters such as Japan and China.

Japan had a ¥5.93 trillion trade surplus with the rest of Asia, including China, the world’s second-largest economy, which grew 6.9 percent in 2017. The surplus with the region expanded 51.8 percent for the third straight year of increase.

Exports to the region gained 15.7 percent to a record ¥42.93 trillion, while imports rose 11.4 percent to ¥36.99 trillion.

With China alone, Japan reported a trade deficit of ¥3.55 trillion, down 23.7 percent, following a 20.5 percent surge in exports to a record ¥14.89 trillion and an 8.4 percent gain in imports to ¥18.44 trillion.

The trade deficit with the European Union came to ¥96.8 billion, down 43.0 percent.

With the International Monetary Fund projecting 3.9 percent global growth in 2018, the world economy is expected to stay in good shape, supporting Japan’s exports.

But economists say movements in crude oil prices and the ability of China to maintain its growth need to be watched closely.

“After strong growth in exports throughout 2017, they will likely remain solid, but the pace of growth could slow this year,” said Toru Suehiro, senior market economist at Mizuho Securities Co.

“That said, the recent surge in crude oil prices should also take a respite so the trade balance as a whole is expected to remain in the black,” Suehiro added.

In December, Japan reported a trade surplus for a seventh straight month at ¥359 billion, though it was 43.5 percent less than a year earlier as the value of imports rose more than exports.

Exports rose 9.3 percent year-on-year to ¥7.30 trillion and imports climbed 14.9 percent to ¥6.94 trillion, the ministry said.

The figures were measured on a customs-cleared basis.

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