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Japan's Exports, Trade Surplus Increase - 2003-08-29

Japan's trade surplus is widening as exports rise, and one of the country's automakers has named a Japanese president for the first time in years. Japan's trade surplus expanded in July for the first time in two months, up 7.3 percent from a year earlier to $6.8 billion.

Exports to China hit a record monthly high, mostly due to the sale of mobile phones and video games.

The surplus with the United States, Japan's largest trading partner, was lower in July than a year earlier. But economists say the trend is upward, and predict exports to the United States will rise significantly in the coming months. Japan's economy remains heavily dependent on exports because demand at home is picking up only slowly.

Mazda, the country's fifth-largest automaker, says it has appointed a new president to replace Lewis Booth, an Englishman who has held the post for only a year. Executive Vice President Hisakazu Imaki will become president. It will the first time in seven years the company, which is one-third owned by U.S. auto giant Ford, will have a Japanese chief.

Mr. Imaki, who has focused primarily on production engineering and planning throughout his career, said Mazda has the best management. He said executives are working well as a team, so he will follow strategies laid out by his predecessor.

Mr. Booth will become the new president of Ford Europe. He improved cost cutting at Mazda, which has led the company to forecast a 24 percent profit increase for this business year.

Sales at Japanese supermarkets and department stores continued to slide in July. The Japan Chain Stores Association says supermarket sales nationwide plunged five percent in July from a year before, to $10 billion, the 13th straight monthly decline.

And the Japan Department Stores Association says sales at department stores fell 2.3 percent in July from the previous year, for the 16th consecutive monthly drop. Both groups attribute the decline to weak consumer demand and a cool summer, although Economic Minister Heizo Takenaka says he is not sure about that.

Mr. Takenaka said the unusually cool weather appears to be only one reason for sluggish sales. He says he needs to read more research reports to determine other possible causes.

Sales at supermarket chain stores are closely watched as a key gauge of Japan's consumer spending, which makes up about two-thirds of the nation's economy.