Japan records trade deficit as imports surge on energy costs

TOKYO (AP) — Japan recorded a trade deficit in April as imports ballooned 28% after energy prices soared following the war in Ukraine.

Japan’s exports grew to 8.076 trillion yen ($63 billion) last month, up 12.5% from the previous year, according to Ministry of Finance data released Thursday.

Imports totaled 8.915 trillion yen ($70 billion) in April, up from 6.953 in April 2021, and the highest since comparable numbers began to be taken in 1979.

Trade has gone up and down in recent years for Japan partly because of production and other problems related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan’s trade deficit totaled 839 billion yen ($7 billion) in April, for the ninth straight monthly deficit. In contrast, the world’s third-largest economy had recorded a surplus of nearly 227 billion yen in April last year.

Currency fluctuations are also proving a headache for Japan. Although a cheap yen has generally worked to boost the value of Japanese exports, the yen’s drop to 20-year lows against the U.S. dollar is making imports cost more.

Japan had annual trade deficits in the years 2011 through 2015, as costs of energy imports rose, and exports gradually declined. The nation has had trade surpluses in recent years.

Resource-poor Japan imports almost all its gas and oil, and many nuclear power plants have been offline since the Fukushima quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of March 2011, which set off widespread public fears about their safety.

Also Thursday, the Japan National Tourism Bureau said incoming travelers from abroad totaled 139,500 people in April, exceeding 100,000 for the first time in two years, as COVID-19 travel restrictions gradually ease.

Japan has restricted incoming travel over the last two years, to stem the spread of infections. In 2019, before the pandemic hit, Japan had 32 million visitors from abroad.

The government reported this week that Japan’s gross domestic product, or GDP, shrank at an annual rate of 1% in the first quarter, as rising prices and COVID-19 restrictions sapped spending and investment.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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