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Japan trade deficit hits fresh record in September as weak yen boosts import costs

TOKYO – Japan’s trade deficit ballooned to a fresh record for September as costs for imports of food and other necessities outstripped growth in exports.

Preliminary customs data Monday show September’s deficit was 932 billion yen ($9.5 billion), the 15th consecutive monthly shortfall. The deficit for April-September rose to nearly 5 trillion yen ($51 billion), also a record for the first half of the fiscal year.

Imports rose 16.5 per cent in September from a year earlier to 6.90 trillion yen ($70.3 billion), while exports, helped by recoveries in key overseas markets such as the U.S. and EU, climbed 11.5 per cent to 5.97 trillion yen ($60.9 billion).

The yen has weakened by almost 25 per cent against the U.S. dollar in the past year, making Japan’s exports cheaper overseas but also raising costs for imports.

Imports of oil and gas accounted for nearly a third of the total but fell 1 per cent as oil prices moderated. Imports of soybeans and other food and machinery surged at double-digit rates.

Exports were boosted by rising shipments of vehicles, iron and steel, rubber, chemicals and machinery.

The U.S. remained Japan’s largest export destination, at 1.11 trillion yen ($11.3 billion), while imports totalled 665 billion yen ($6.8 billion). The resulting 533 billion yen ($5.4 billion) surplus rose 25 per cent from a year earlier.

But Japan’s trade deficit with China jumped 87 per cent to 620 billion yen ($6.3 billion) as imports of such items as cellphones and solar panels surged 31 per cent to 1.68 trillion yen ($17 billion) while exports were up 11 per cent at 1.06 trillion yen ($10.8 billion).

Japan’s shipments to China, Japan’s biggest trade partner, grew 11.4 per cent to 1.06 trillion yen in September, while imports from China soared 30.9 per cent to 1.68 trillion yen.