Exports propel Japan to 3rd straight trade surplus


TOKYO: Japan posted a trade surplus for the third straight month in April helped by a further rise in exports including to the United States, official data showed Monday.

American President Donald Trump has vowed to root out “unfair” trade practices around the world and target countries, including Japan, that contribute to America’s nearly $50 billion a month trade deficit.

Trump has assailed Japan for allegedly devaluing the yen to boost exports, grouping it with countries he says are taking “advantage” of the US.

Despite the rhetoric, Washington — which cooperates closely with Japan on a range of global and security issues — has yet to make a formal request for bilateral trade negotiations in specific sectors with Tokyo.

In April, Japan logged a trade surplus in goods of 481.7 billion yen ($4.3 billion), the finance ministry said, marking the third straight month in the black.

Overall exports rose 7.5 percent thanks to brisk shipments of chip production machines, steel and motors, while imports jumped 15.1 percent on the back of growing domestic demand.

Japan said last week that its economy — the world’s third largest — grew 0.5 percent in the first three months of 2017, its fifth straight winning quarter and the longest expansion in more than a decade.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying for years to rejuvenate growth and end an extended period of on-and-off deflation through a policy blitz of easy money, stimulus and reform.

“Domestic demand is getting strong, which helped increase imports, while global economic recoveries boosted Japanese exports,” said Japan Research Institute economist Yusuke Shimoda.

“The trend — strong figures in both exports and imports — is likely to continue for now,” Shimoda told AFP.
The ministry said Japan’s exports to the US gained 2.6 percent due to strong auto shipments, marking the third straight year-on-year increase.

“If Japan’s exports to the US continue to expand, it could be used as evidence for the US argument over trade,” Shimoda said.

He added that Trump may focus on trade rows in a bid to deflect media attention away from repeated national security questions surrounding his administration.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a veteran Reagan-era trade negotiator with protectionist credentials, met his Japanese counterpart, Hiroshige Seko, in Vietnam on the sidelines of a regional trade meeting on Saturday.

The two agreed to “promote mutually beneficial trade, fight trade barriers and trade distorting measures,” Seko said, adding that they did not discuss bilateral issues.

Last month the US and Japan kicked off talks aimed at achieving a new economic relationship in line with Trump’s vow to focus on bilateral trade deals rather than multilateral ones that he says have damaged the US.

Also last month Trump’s administration kept Japan on a Treasury Department watch list covering foreign exchange policies of US trading partners, exerting tacit pressure on Tokyo to buy more American-made goods and services.


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