Japan's trade deficit jumps from previous year on soaring post-Fukushima fuel import costs

TOKYO – Japan’s trade deficit ballooned 35 per cent last month compared to a year ago, the biggest November deficit on record, as fuel imports soared following the 2011 nuclear catastrophe, the government said Wednesday.

The run of 17 straight months of deficits is the longest since comparative records were first tallied in 1979, the Finance Ministry said.

The trade deficit for November totalled 1.29 trillion yen ($12.9 billion) compared to a deficit of 957 billion yen the same month in 2012. Imports grew 21 per cent last month, even as exports improved 18 per cent on year.

The sinking value of the yen is also weighing on Japan. A weak yen is a boon for exporters but adds to the fuel bill.

Japanese are wary of nuclear power after the March, 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, causing meltdowns and radiation leaks.

All of Japan’s reactors were shut down after the disaster. A handful went back online but were since been turned off for safety checks, forcing this resource-scant nation to rely on imports of oil and natural gas.

Japan plans to raise the sales tax in April, and that may also be pushing up imports, the ministry said.

Exports to China rose 33 per cent last month, compared to a year ago. Exports to the U.S. also rose, by 21 per cent.