Japan trade surplus drops sharply on higher oil imports


Tokyo (AFP)

Japan's trade surplus fell sharply in November, the government said Monday, as the rising cost of oil and smartphone imports outweighed strong exports of cars and steel.

The world's third-largest economy logged a surplus of 113.4 billion yen ($1.0 billion), a 22-percent drop from a 146.5-billion-yen surplus a year earlier, according to finance ministry data.

Exports rose for the 12th consecutive month on sound exports of chip-making equipment, cars and steel.

But imports also grew for a 11th straight month, chiefly due to a rise in imports of smartphone handsets, crude oil and non-ferrous metals.

The ministry said the yen was on average 8.2 percent cheaper against the US dollar in November compared to the same month a year earlier, making Japan's imports costlier.

Japan's politically sensitive trade surplus with the United States rose 13.7 percent -- the fifth monthly rise in a row -- on increased exports of automobiles and construction machines.

The nation's trade flows with the US, over which the two countries battled for decades into the 1990s, has become less of a hot-button issue under recent presidential administrations, as China's presence as a trade-surplus nation has been growing.

Last week, the United States, European Union (EU) and Japan jointly rounded on China's "market-distorting subsidies" at the World Trade Organization conference in Argentina.

With the EU, Japan logged the second consecutive monthly trade deficit while its deficit with China -- the ninth consecutive -- rose 11.8 percent.