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Japan's Trade Surplus Continues to Grow


Japan's Finance Ministry says the country's trade surplus grew 1.3 percent in fiscal 2004 from the previous year. That is the third straight annual increase.

For the year that ended March 31, exports rose slightly more than 10 percent to $618 billion. Imports were also up, but only to about $504 billion leaving a surplus of around $114 billion.

Most significantly, according to the ministry's preliminary report, Japan's trade surplus with the rest of Asia grew by more than 14 percent.

A team of U.S. agriculture experts is to arrive in Japan next week, hoping to redress the trade imbalance with the United States somewhat by pressing Tokyo to lift its 16-month ban on the import of American beef.

Japan banned American beef in December 2003 after the United States reported its first and only case of mad cow disease. Prior to that, Japan was the largest importer of American beef - a $1.3 billion annual market.

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer says the objective fact is that American beef is safe. "We hope that people can step back a little bit from the emotion of the issue to look at it on scientific grounds. And when they do that we think that they will find that American beef is safe," he said. "After all, 300-million Americans are eating that beef every day and there are no health concerns in the United States."

For the first time since the bursting of Japan's economic bubble in the early 1990's, a major bank in the country is forming a full-scale tie-up with foreign financial institutions.

Media reports say Mizuho Bank next week will unveil details of its comprehensive retail banking tie-up with Wachovia and Wells Fargo - the number-four and number-five banks in the United States in terms of assets.

The alliance comes as a surprise, since in the past decade Japanese banks have retreated from overseas markets, instead focusing on disposing of their mountains of bad loans.

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