Japan's trade surplus soared to a record high in September

October 15, 1992|By New York Times News Service

TOKYO -- After slowly building for nearly two years, Japan's trade surplus with the United States and the rest of the world soared to an all-time high in September, despite Japanese government pledges to try to bring its trade into balance.

The surplus is having a pronounced effect now because the Japanese and U.S. economies are both weak, and the governments are struggling to stimulate growth. The growing surplus is providing a lift to the Japanese, while proving a drain on the American economy.

Some business leaders and economists said the prospects of further growth in Japan's surplus are setting the stage for serious clashes between Tokyo and Washington when attention turns from the presidential election to the nuts and bolts of America's economic problems.

Japan's worldwide surplus rose 25 percent in September from a yearearlier, to a record $12.1 billion, the Finance Ministry reported. The surplus with the United States reached $4.84 billion for the month, and $30.4 billion in the first nine months of this year, also a record.

The figures, released today, are measured on what is known as a customs-cleared basis. They exclude such expenses as insurance and freight. If the surplus were measured with all costs included, called the balance-of-payments basis, it would be between 20 percent and 30 percent larger. Those figures, the most commonly cited, are not expected for weeks, but they are (( also likely to show yawning Japanese surpluses.

What the trade imbalance signifies for Americans is that "we are losing our competitiveness and at a fairly rapid rate, far more than most people believe," said Joseph T. Gorman, chairman of TRW Inc., a major technology company and auto parts manufacturer, and chairman of the U.S.-Japan Business Council.

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