• Kyodo

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Japan’s travel surplus in fiscal 2020 plunged 89.2% from the previous year, as the number of inbound visitors nosedived due to strict international travel restrictions by nations in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Finance Ministry said Thursday.

The surplus of the travel balance, showing the amount of money foreign tourists spend in Japan versus Japanese spending abroad, shrank to ¥264.5 billion ($2.4 billion), marking the first fall since the balance turned black in fiscal 2014, according to the ministry’s preliminary report.

Japan’s annual travel balance had continued to improve since fiscal 2004 as tourists from overseas increased almost every year, and the surplus of ¥2.46 trillion in fiscal 2019 through March last year was the largest since comparable data became available in fiscal 1996.

As for the current account, one of the widest gauges of international trade, its surplus in the reporting year fell 3.8% to ¥18.20 trillion from a year earlier, marking the lowest level since it totaled ¥8.70 trillion in fiscal 2014. It decreased for the third straight year.

The goods trade surplus grew eight-fold from the previous year to ¥3.90 trillion, remaining in the black for the sixth consecutive year.

The surplus was pushed up by a 13.3% plunge in imports due mainly to falls in crude oil prices, more than offsetting an 8.6% decline in exports as the spread of the virus dampened demand for Japanese products such as cars.

The service trade deficit, which also includes cargo shipping, stood at ¥3.73 trillion, expanding for the third year in a row and hitting its worst level since fiscal 2012.

The surplus of primary income, which reflects returns on overseas investments, slid 4.0% to ¥20.78 trillion, down for the second straight year, but the amount was the fourth largest since fiscal 1996.

Since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, many countries have introduced widespread travel restrictions in efforts to curb the global spread of infections.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2020 plummeted a record 87.1% from a year earlier to 4.12 million after climbing to an all-time high of 31.88 million the previous year, aided partly by the government’s promotion of inbound tourism.

In fiscal 2020, the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games were expected to attract many foreign visitors, but the pandemic forced the host country to postpone the quadrennial sport events for a year.

For March alone, Japan posted a current account surplus of ¥2.65 trillion, up 37.3% from a year earlier, marking the 81st successive month of black ink.

In the reporting month, the country’s goods trade surplus was ¥983.1 billion and the services trade deficit was ¥47.1 billion. Primary income logged a surplus of ¥2.05 trillion.

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