Japan posted a record annual trade deficit of $77.4 billion in 2012 due largely to a slump in exports, especially to China and the European Union, according to preliminary figures released by the Finance Ministry on Thursday.
But bucking the overall trend, shipments to the United States rose at a robust pace last year, led by autos and auto parts.
A sharp rise in energy imports in the wake of the 2011 nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant also contributed to Japan’s record trade gap in 2012.
The previous record annual trade deficit of $29.2 billion was registered in 1980, during the so-called second oil crisis, which dealt a serious blow to resource-poor Japan.
Japan’s overall exports fell for the second straight year in 2012, dropping 2.7 percent to $712.2 billion. The export decline was led by ships and electronic parts, including semiconductors, which plunged 16.1 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively, in terms of value.
Japan’s overall exports sank due to weaker demand for its products amid a slowdown in the global economy. Japanese exporters were also hit by a strong yen, which makes their products more expensive abroad, and the recent flare-up in political tensions with China due to the territorial dispute, which led to a boycott of Japanese products in China.
By region, exports to China and the 27-nation EU showed particularly big declines of 10.8 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively. 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 imports rose for the third consecutive year in 2012, increasing 3.8 percent to $789.6 billion. The import growth was led by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and crude oil, which surged 25.4 percent and 7.3 percent, respectively, in terms of value.
Japan’s exports to the U.S. rose for the first time in two years in 2012, soaring 11.7 percent to $124.9 billion. Shipments of autos and auto parts jumped 23.8 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively, in terms of value.
Japan’s imports from the U.S. grew for three years in a row in 2012, rising 2.5 percent to $67.9 billion. As a result, Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S. expanded for the first time in two years, swelling 24.9 percent to $57.0 billion.
The U.S. is Japan’s second-largest trading partner after China.