Japan Records First Trade Deficit in More Than 30 Years

Posted January 25th, 2012 at 4:40 am (UTC-5)
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Japan has posted its first annual trade deficit in more than 30 years, as the loss of nuclear power forced it to import more energy and the rising value of the yen slowed exports.

Japan’s Finance Ministry said Wednesday the largely export-driven economy logged a $32 billion deficit for 2011.

Total exports shrank 2.7 percent as the rising value of the yen made Japanese-made goods more expensive for foreign buyers.

Meanwhile, imports surged 12 percent as Japan’s March 2011 earthquake and tsunami forced all but a few of its atomic power plants offline, making the resource-poor country rely on costly fuel imports.

The yen hit multiple historic highs against the dollar in 2011 as investors flocked to Japan’s relatively stable currency as economic turmoil hurt Europe and the United States.

The high currency value prompted some major Japanese manufacturers to shift production overseas. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Wednesday the rising yen and other factors are hurting Japanese industries.

“There is much concern over the hollowing out of industries. As such, we need to nurture new industries through regulatory reforms and comprehensively promote policies that will strengthen our growth potential.”

Some analysts say the days of Japan recording historically large trade surpluses may be over. But they predict that Tokyo will not continue to log trade deficits, saying the current gap was caused by temporary factors, such as natural disasters.

Richard Broinowski, an author and former Australian diplomat to Japan, acknowledges that Tokyo is facing a serious economic situation. But he told VOA the nuclear disaster could eventually profit Japan’s economy by forcing it to pursue more efficient energy sources.

“I am optimistic about the future of Japan. I think Japan is going to suddenly turn from nuclear power to renewables, and that there is a whole spate of new economic stimuli that are going to come out of that.”

Broinowski said Japan’s record of innovation and its stable political situation suggest that the world’s third largest economy is in “relatively good shape” to handle its current financial crisis.