• Kyodo

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The current account surplus in 2019 grew 4.4 percent to ¥20.06 trillion ($183 billion) from the previous year, helped by the first-ever black ink in services trade on increased consumption by foreign tourists, government data showed Monday.

The surplus in the current account, one of the widest gauges of international trade, marked the first rise in two years in 2019, although the goods trade surplus shrank for the third year in a row amid lackluster exports due to a slowdown in the Chinese economy, the Finance Ministry said in a preliminary report.

In services trade, which includes cargo shipping and passenger transportation, a ¥175.8 billion surplus was posted in 2019, with the account moving into the black for the first time since the ministry began compiling annual statistics in 1996. In 2018, Japan saw an ¥806.2 billion services trade deficit.

Among services components, the travel balance registered a record surplus of ¥2.64 trillion, up 9.1 percent, helped by robust spending by Chinese and other foreign tourists.

The number of overseas visitors to Japan reached a record high of 31.88 million in 2019, despite a sharp fall in tourists from South Korea amid deteriorating bilateral ties, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

In 2019, the surplus in goods trade decreased 53.8 percent from the previous year to ¥553.6 billion, with exports sliding 6.3 percent to ¥76.12 trillion and imports falling 5.6 percent to ¥75.56 trillion.

Exports of items such as auto parts to China, cars to the United States and steel to Thailand slowed, with a ministry official saying a “global slump” in automobile sales significantly affected Japan’s exports.

Imports also dropped on cheaper crude oil and slowing demand for liquefied natural gas, the official said.

Primary income, which reflects returns on overseas investments, logged a ¥20.72 trillion surplus, the third largest on record but down 0.6 percent from a year earlier.

In December alone, Japan posted a current account surplus of ¥524.0 billion, up 12.8 percent from the previous year to mark the 66th straight month of black ink.

In that month, the country had a goods trade surplus of ¥120.7 billion and a services trade surplus of ¥24.5 billion. Primary income registered a surplus of ¥400.1 billion.

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