China became Japan's biggest trading partner in 2004, replacing the United States for the first time since the end of World War II and underlining the country's growing clout in the global economy, according to Finance Ministry data released Wednesday.
Japan's exports to and imports from China, including Hong Kong, totaled 22,200.5 billion yen in 2004 -- the highest since records began in 1947 -- outpacing the 20,479.5 billion yen in trade with the United States, the ministry said in a preliminary report.
China represented 20.1 percent of Japan's trade in 2004, compared with 18.6 percent for the United States, a ministry official said. In 2003, the United States had 20.5 percent and China 19.2 percent.
Exports to China came to 11,827.8 billion yen and imports reached 10,372.7 billion yen, giving Japan a 1,455.1 billion yen customs-cleared trade surplus with China.
Japan's exports to the United States came to 13,720.5 billion yen and imports to 6,759.0 billion yen, for a 6,961.5 billion yen trade surplus for Japan.
Japan's worldwide trade surplus in 2004 grew 17.9 percent from the previous year to 12,010.9 billion yen for the third straight year of increase, the report said.
Exports increased 12.2 percent to 61,183.0 billion yen, while imports expanded 10.8 percent to 49,172.1 billion yen.
Imports of crude oil expanded 13.8 percent and those of coal were up 46.6 percent, while steel exports climbed 22.0 percent and those of semiconductor manufacturing equipment rose 22.7 percent.
Japan's trade surplus with the rest of Asia totaled a record 7,430.3 billion yen, up 32.9 percent from the previous year. Exports hit a record 29,642.4 billion yen, up 17.1 percent, and imports also logged a record 22,212.1 billion yen, up 12.6 percent.
Steel exports to other Asian economies were up 23.7 percent, while imports of audiovisual equipment rose 23.7 percent.
Meat imports from the United States slumped 50.8 percent due to Japan's ongoing ban on U.S. beef imports, implemented following the discovery of mad cow disease in the country in December 2003.
Japan's exports to the European Union marked a record 9,474.2 billion yen, up 10.1 percent. Imports from the 25-nation bloc were a record 6,207.8 billion yen, up 8.0 percent.
That brought the trade surplus with the European Union up 14.5 percent to 3,266.4 billion yen.
In December, Japan's worldwide trade surplus rose 1.8 percent from a year earlier to 1,141.7 billion yen.
Exports in the month climbed 8.8 percent to 5,396.1 billion yen, while imports rose 10.9 percent to 4,254.3 billion yen.
Source: Kyodo News