TOKYO (AP) — Japan's trade deficit surged to a record 11.47 trillion yen ($112 billion) in 2013 as the shutdown of nuclear power plants swelled the nation's energy import bill.
Provisional data Monday showed that exports rose 9.5 percent to 69.8 trillion yen ($680.9 billion), while imports jumped 15 percent to 81.3 trillion yen ($793.2 billion).
Japan's trade deficit in 2012 was 6.94 trillion yen. The deficit has been rising as costs for imports have surged with the weakening of the Japanese yen and increased purchases of foreign oil and gas. Japan's nuclear reactors have been offline for safety and regulatory checks after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The largest shortfall, 13.2 trillion yen ($128.8 billion), was with the Middle East, source of the largest share of resource-scarce Japan's imports of oil and gas.
The weaker yen is a mixed blessing for Japan. It is boosting corporate profits due to higher yen-denominated income for companies that earn a large share of their revenues overseas.
"Our imports are affected both by the yen's value and also by oil prices, so we will be watching the situation," chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Monday. He reiterated Japan's eagerness to buy lower-priced shale gas from North America, pending U.S. approval of such exports.
Apart from energy imports, Japanese manufacturers increasingly are relying on overseas sources for components for electronics and other products. The recovery in exports so far has failed to offset those costs and Japanese consumers are paying sharply higher prices for fuel and food.
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