Japan suffered a deficit of $18.5 billion in its trade with the rest of the world in January, up 207.7 percent from a year earlier and the biggest amount for any month on record, according to preliminary figures released by the Finance Ministry on Monday.
It was the fourth consecutive monthly trade deficit. The record monthly trade deficit came as exports extended a slump because of the strong yen and a slowdown in the global economy caused primarily by the European debt crisis while imports surged, led by alternative fuels to atomic power generation in the wake of last year’s nuclear crisis. The strong yen makes Japanese products more expensive abroad.
Japan is now the world’s third-largest economy after the U.S. and China and is heavily dependent on exports for growth.
Japan’s overall exports fell for the fourth straight month in January on a year-over-year basis, declining 9.3 percent to $56.7 billion. Semiconductors and other electronic parts, mineral fuels and steel, led the exports decline, tumbling 15.8, 33.5 and 11.4 percent, respectively, in terms of value.
Japan’s overall imports rose for the 25th consecutive month on a year-over-year basis, increasing 9.8 percent to $75.2 billion. Liquefied natural gas, crude oil and coal, which soared 74.3, 12.7 and 26.5 percent, respectively, led the surge in terms of value.
Resource-poor Japan imports almost all of its oil and natural gas. The country imports natural gas in the form of LNG and is by far the world’s largest importer of the cleaner-burning fuel.
Japan’s exports to the U.S. rose for the third consecutive month in January on a year-on-year basis, edging up 0.6 percent to $9.5 billion, while its imports from the U.S. grew for the first time in three months, increasing 5.7 percent to $6.2 billion.
As a result, Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S. narrowed for the first time in three months, shrinking 7.6 percent to $3.3 billion. The U.S. is now Japan’s second-largest trading partner after China.
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