Japan's surplus with U.S. up 10% amid trade talks

Japan's monthly trade surplus with the United States grew nearly 10 percent in March, according to official data Wednesday likely to be seized upon by Washington in ongoing trade talks with Tokyo.
Data from the Japanese finance ministry showed that the trade surplus climbed by 9.8 percent year-on-year to reach 683.6 billion yen ($6.16 billion) last month.
The rise follows a 1.5 percent dip in February and a 5.5 percent increase in January.
U.S. President Donald Trump has frequently complained that Japan has an unfair advantage in bilateral trade and vowed to fix that.
The trade surplus was chiefly due to a rise in exports of vehicles, machines for construction and mining, and semiconductor-making equipment, the ministry said. At the same, imports from the U.S. of liquefied petroleum gas, engines and aircraft declined, the ministry said.
Japan's overall trade surplus dropped 32.6 percent last month to 528.5 billion yen, against market expectations of 363.2 billion yen.
Japan's trade deficit with China -- the 12th consecutive monthly deficit -- stood at 192.7 billion yen. With the European Union, Japan's trade surplus stood at 44.3 billion yen.
The fresh data came as trade ministers from both countries wrapped up a first round of trade talks in Washington. According to a brief statement released by the U.S. side, the two sides concentrated on "trade issues involving goods, including agriculture, as well as the need to establish high standards in the area of digital trade."
"In addition, the United States raised its very large trade deficit with Japan," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement, adding that he and Japanese Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi agreed that the two countries will meet again in the "near future" as part of the ongoing trade talks.
Trump has said he wants Tokyo to further open its market to U.S. products, especially in the agricultural sector, though the Japanese have so far appeared reluctant.
The two countries spent more than $280 billion in trade with each other in 2017, according to the U.S. Trade Representative office.
For Japan, auto-sector tariffs, which Trump has said he is willing to impose, remain a major concern. In return for opening Japan's agricultural market, Tokyo could ask Washington to remove customs duties on Japanese industrial goods.

© 2019 AFP
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