By ELAINE KURTENBACH
TOKYO (AP) â¿¿ Japan's trade deficit rose to a record $83.4 billion in the last fiscal year, as exports faltered despite the weakening yen and costs for imported gas and crude oil rose.
Customs figures released Thursday also showed a deficit in March for the ninth month in a row, of 362.4 billion yen ($3.7 billion), down from February's gap of 779.5 billion yen.
Exports fell 2.1 percent in the April-March fiscal year from the year before, to 63.9 trillion yen ($652.4 billion) while imports rose 3.4 percent to 72.1 trillion yen ($735.8 billion). The deficit of 8.17 trillion yen ($83.4 billion) was up 84 percent from the previous fiscal year's 4.4 trillion yen ($45.1) shortfall.
A sharp depreciation in Japan's currency since late 2012 has failed to fully offset weak demand for Japan's exports as shipments to China have suffered from a flare-up in tensions over a territorial dispute. Meanwhile, the weaker yen means higher costs for rising imports of natural gas, which is priced in dollar terms, to help compensate for the loss of nuclear power generation capacity after most atomic power plants remain closed after the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan.
Japan's exports to China fell 9.1 percent in fiscal 2012, while its exports to the rest of Asia fell almost 42 percent, the figures show. Shipments to the European Union dropped 14 percent, while imports rose 4.5 percent.
Exports to the United States, one of the few growth areas, rose 10 percent to 11.4 trillion yen ($116.3 billion), while imports also rose, 1.5 percent, to 6.1 trillion yen ($62.3 billion), boosting Japan's trade surplus by nearly 23 percent to 5.3 trillion yen ($54.1 billion).
Japan's worldwide exports of cars and other vehicles rose 7.2 percent from the year before, but exports of machinery and electrical machinery fell. Imports of foodstuffs were flat.