Japan - Foreign trade

Foreign trade remains essential to the Japanese economy. Imports consist mostly of fuel, foodstuffs, industrial raw materials, and industrial machinery. Exports are varied, but manufactures now account for nearly all of the total. Cars represent a leading export product, with the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom as the main markets. The export of office machinery, scientific and optical equipment is also important. South Korea, China, and Taiwan are among the main buyers of Japan's iron and steel, while plastic materials and fertilizers are shipped primarily to South Korea and the Southeast Asian countries, and woven fabrics are supplied to China, the United States, Hong Kong, and Sa'udi Arabia. Only a small fraction of Japan's total exports (around 0.5%) consists of food items, mainly fish.

In light of growing overseas concern about Japan's continuing large trade surplus, the US and Japanese governments collaborated on the Structural Impediments Initiative of 1989. Steps taken in the wake of the Initiative's 1990 report have included a variety of import and direct foreign investment promotion measures, including deregulation, accelerated government spending on public infrastructure, and support services for foreign businesses.

Manufactured products make up most of Japan's commodity exports, and 15% of the world's total manufactured exports. The automobile is the country's most important industry (12%), along with computers and electronic equipment (6.6%). Japan also makes 26% of the world's exported ships. The top 10 exports of 2000 were:


Automobiles 11.8
Transistors, valves, etc 8.9
Telecommunications equipment 6.4
Electronic microcircuits 5.7
Car parts 3.6
Office machine parts 3.5
Computers 3.1
Switchgear 2.8
Engines 2.5
Ships and boats 2.1

In 2000 Japan's imports were distributed among the following categories:


Consumer goods 16.3%
Food 10.9%
Fuels 20.3%
Industrial supplies 22.6%
Machinery 23.8%
Transportation 4.5%
Other 1.6%

Principal trading partners in 2000 (in millions of US dollars) were as follows:


United States 143,977 72,509 71,468
China (inc. Hong Kong) 57,562 55,100 2,462
Korea 30,699 20,446 10,253
Singapore 20,819 6,433 14,386
Germany 19,996 12,723 7,273
United Kingdom 14,830 6,577 8,253
Malaysia 13,886 14,493 -607
Thailand 13,633 10,594 3,039
Australia 8,571 14,800 -6229
Indonesia 7,594 16,380 -8,786

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