Japanese international trade fell 21 percent in fiscal 2009, which ended on March 31, returning the country to a trade surplus as imports slumped much more rapidly than exports, according to preliminary figures released by the Finance Ministry on Thursday.
A 23 percent drop in U.S. trade allowed China to overtake the United States as Japan’s largest export market for the first time since the end of World War I. China had already been Japan's largest import source since fiscal 2002 and largest trading partner since fiscal 2006.
Japan posted a trade surplus of about $56.3 billion with the rest of the world in fiscal 2009 after incurring a trade deficit of about $8.2 billion in fiscal 2008 -- the first deficit in 28 years -- amid the deep global economic downturn.
In fiscal 2009, Japan's overall exports declined 17.1 percent to about $634.6 billion while its overall imports decreased at a faster pace of 25.2 percent to about $578.3 billion.
Automobiles, steel and mineral fuels led the fall in exports. Crude oil, liquefied natural gas and coal led the decline in imports.
Japan's exports to the U.S. tumbled 22.7 percent in fiscal 2009 to about $100.5 billion, led by falling exports of automobiles. Imports from the U.S. plunged 24.3 percent to about $60.1 billion, led by falling imports of grains.
Japan's exports to China fell 3.8 percent in fiscal 2009 to about $121.6 billion while its imports from China dropped 15.5 percent to about $126.8 billion.
The annual results reflect the worst of the recession. Exports began rising in December, and rose for the fourth consecutive month in March on a year-on-year basis, surging 43.5 percent to about $64.6 billion. Imports also increased for the third straight month in March on a year-on-year basis, soaring 20.7 percent to about $54.4 billion.
Japan's exports to the United States grew for the third month in a row in March, surging 29.5 percent from a year earlier to about $9.3 billion while its imports from the United States also grew for the third consecutive month in March, rising 2.6 percent to about $5.7 billion.
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