China overtook US as Japan's largest trading partner in 2007

TOKYO-- China overtook the United States to become Japan's largest trading partner last year, a government-affiliated trade organization said Thursday.

Total trade with China excluding Hong Kong rose 12 percent to US$236.6 billion (€157.27 billion) in 2007, the Japan External Trade Organization, or JETRO, said. That marked the ninth straight year of growth, and was slightly higher than the 11.5 percent growth rate in 2006.

China accounted for 17.7 percent of Japan's total trade last year, JETRO said. The United States dropped to second place, with 16.1 percent of the total, it said.

Exports to China rose 17.5 percent last year to US$109.1 billion (€72.52 billion), as the Chinese economy's strength helped fuel increased demand for electronics, passenger cars, auto parts and materials for making synthetic resins and fibers, the organization said.

Meanwhile, imports from China rose 7.6 percent to US$127.6 billion (€84.82 billion). That's slower than the 8.5 percent growth in 2006, due in part to mounting concerns about Chinese food safety, JETRO said. Crude oil and coal imports also fell.

Although China has been Japan's largest import source since 2002, the import growth rate has been sliding since 2004 partly due to stagnant sales in personal computers, the organization added.

Japan's trade deficit with China shrank 27.9 percent to US$18.6 billion (€12.36 billion) from US$25.5 billion the year before, it said.

(The Associated Press)

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