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Japan records trade deficit as imports surge on energy costs

Cars for export park at a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo on July 6, 2020. Japan recorded a trade deficit in April as imports ballooned 28% as energy prices soared following the war in Ukraine, according to Ministry of Finance data released Thursday, May 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (AP) — Japan recorded a trade deficit in April as its imports ballooned 28% due to soaring energy costs and the yen’s weakness against the dollar.

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.

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 trillion yen in April 2021, and the highest since comparable numbers began to be taken in 1979.

Japan’s trade balance has fluctuated in recent years partly because of disruptions to production and other problems related to the pandemic.

Although a cheap yen generally works to boost the value of Japanese exports, its drop to 20-year lows against the U.S. dollar is making imports more costly.

The war in Ukraine, meanwhile, has pushed prices for oil and gas sharply higher, increasing costs for a country heavily dependent on imported resources to fuel its economy.

Japan recorded annual trade deficits in 2011 through 2015, as imports of oil, gas and coal rose following the March 11, 2011 earthquake-tsunami and nuclear disasters on its northeastern coast, which led to shutdowns of the country’s nuclear power plants. Only some have been restarted since.

In recent years, the nation has posted trade surpluses.

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 were eased.

Japan has limited incoming travel over the last two years to stem the spread of coronavirus 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.