Japan posted a record trade deficit of 4.41 trillion yen in fiscal 2011, exceeding the 3.13 trillion yen recorded in fiscal 1979 during the second oil crisis, according to figures released by the Finance Ministry on Thursday.
It was the first time since fiscal 2008--the year of a global financial crisis caused by the collapse of Lehman Brothers--the value of imports exceeded that of exports.
The trade deficit was mainly caused by the slow recovery of exports in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, and a surge in fuel imports for thermal power generation due to idled nuclear power plants.
Exports for fiscal 2011 decreased 3.7 percent from the previous year to 65.28 trillion yen, the first drop in two years. Multiple reasons were attributed to the decline, such as damage to manufacturers' production facilities and equipment caused by the March 11, 2011, disaster; appreciation of the yen; power shortages caused by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant; the global economic downturn; and flooding in Thailand.
Exports dropped in various sectors, such as electronics, including semiconductors, which saw a drop of 14.7 percent and automobiles, which decreased 5.4 percent.
By region, exports to European countries, in the midst of a financial crisis, dropped 3.6 percent in fiscal 2011. Exports to China--which has high export volumes to Europe--also dropped by 6.9 percent as material exports such as steel and plastic from Japan dropped about 10 percent. Exports to the United States also dropped, but only by 0.8 percent, thanks to a rally in the second half of the fiscal year, lessening the decline.
Imports for fiscal 2011 increased for the second consecutive year to 69.69 trillion yen, up 11.6 percent from the previous year. Liquefied natural gas imports hit a record high of 5.4 trillion yen, up 52.2 percent from the previous year, on increased demand and soaring prices.
The nation's trade deficit with China rose for the second straight year to 2.3 trillion yen, a sharp increase from the 446.6 billion yen deficit posted in fiscal 2010. Japan's trade surplus with European countries hit a record low of 919.4 billion yen, down 49.8 percent from the previous year. The trade surplus with the United States was 4.3 trillion yen, down 4.8 percent from the previous year.
In March, Japan posted a trade deficit--the first in two months--of 82.6 billion yen. Exports increased by 5.9 percent from the same period last year to 6.2 trillion yen, but imports rose by 10.5 percent to 6.29 trillion yen.
Copyright 2012 The Yomiuri Shimbun. All Rights Reserved.
(Originally published in the April 20, 2012, edition of The Daily Yomiuri.)