In 2018 cars, automobile parts or accessories and machinery for making semi-conductors are major drivers for the highest positive trade balances for Japan.
Japan’s total trade balance for all products equaled a -US$10.2 billion deficit for 2018, down -68.4% from the -$32.2 billion in red ink for 2011. Year over year, Japan’s -$10.2 billion trade deficit in 2018 represents a reversal from $26.2 billion in black ink one year earlier.
To put Japan’s trade deficit metric into perspective, the country’s total external debt encompassing both public and private red ink equaled -$4.199 trillion at March 2019. Japan’s external debt is the equivalent of over 400 times its negative international trade balance.
Top Japanese Trade Balances by Product and Country
The following 10 leading products generated a surplus subtotal of $192.1 billion for Japan in its global trade during 2018. Metrics listed below highlight Japan’s strongest competitive advantages over worldwide trading partners.
- Cars: US$86.9 billion (Up 10.7% since 2011)
- Automobile parts/accessories: $27 billion (Down -14.5%)
- Machinery for making semi-conductors: $18.4 billion (Up 1.6%)
- Cruise/cargo ships, barges: $12.2 billion (Down -52.3%)
- Heavy machinery (e.g. bulldozers, excavators): $10.4 billion (Down -10.1%)
- Trucks: $8.8 billion (Down -20.6%)
- Integrated circuits/microassemblies: $7.9 billion (Down -43.9%)
- Miscellaneous machinery: $7.5 billion (Down -15.1%)
- Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products: $6.9 billion (Down -14.4%)
- Piston engines: $6.2 billion (Up 22.5%)
Japan was able to grow its trade surplus with three of the above products over the latest 7-year period: up 22.5% for piston engines, up 10.7% for cars and up 1.6% with respect to machinery for making semi-conductors.
The 10 major products below accumulated a deficit subtotal of -$236.7 billion for Japan in international trade during 2018. Japan has demonstrated the severest competitive disadvantages in the exports and imports of the following commodities.
- Crude oil: -US$80.6 billion (Down -43.3% since 2011)
- Petroleum gases: -$48.9 billion (Down -31.2%)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: -$25.4 billion (Down -18%)
- Phone system devices including smartphones: -$22.2 billion (Up 53.8%)
- Computers, optical readers: -$13.7 billion (Down -5.4%)
- Medication mixes in dosage: -$12.5 billion (Up 9.6%)
- Copper ores, concentrates: -$9.8 billion (Down -14.5%)
- Iron ores, concentrates: -$9.3 billion (Down -56.6%)
- Processed petroleum oils: -$7.4 billion (Down -44.1%)
- Blood fractions (including antisera): -$6.9 billion (Up 59.4%)
Three top products accelerated Japan’s red ink in 2018 since 2011 at the fastest pace: blood fractions including antisera (up 59.4%), phone system devices including smartphones (up 53.8%) and medication mixes in dosage (up 9.6%).
Leading product trade deficit shrinkage for Japan since 2011 were iron ores and concentrates (down -56.6%), processed petroleum oils (down -44.1%) and crude oil (down -43.3%).
In 2018, Japan generated a surplus subtotal worth $172.4 billion with the following 10 trading partners.
- United States: US$57 billion (Up 10.9% since 2011)
- Hong Kong: $32.6 billion (Down -21.3%)
- South Korea: $20.4 billion (Down -22.7%)
- Taiwan: $15.3 billion (Down -44.9%)
- Singapore: $13.7 billion (Down -26.4%)
- Netherlands: $9.5 billion (Down -22.0%)
- Thailand: $7.2 (Down -44.7%)
- United Kingdom: $5.8 billion (Down -36.3%)
- India: $5.5 billion (Up 29.5%)
- Panama: $5.4 billion (Down -62.8%)
Japan increased its surplus with two of the above-listed countries, specifically a 29.5% gain with India and 10.9% at the expense of the United States.
Panama led the decliners with a -62.8% reduction in Japan’s country-specific surplus over the 7-year period.
Japan lost money in its international trade with 83 countries or territories. Topping the list, the following 10 trade partners created a -$152.8 billion deficit subtotal in 2018 from exchanging exports and imports with Japan.
- Saudi Arabia: -US$29.7 billion (Down -32.7% since 2011)
- China: -$29.5 billion (Up 35.3%)
- Australia: -$28.6 billion (Down -26.5%)
- United Arab Emirates: -$19.6 billion (Down -44.5%)
- Qatar: -$13.4 billion (Down -53.8%)
- Russia: -$8.3 billion (Up 15.0%)
- Italy: -$6.7 billion (Up 100.6%)
- Indonesia: -$5.8 billion (Down -64.5%)
- Ireland: -$5.7 billion (Up 71.7%)
- Kuwait: -$5.5 billion (Down -53.6%)
Japan’s country-specific deficits increased with four top trade partners namely Italy, Ireland, China and Russia.
See also Japan’s Top 10 Exports, Japan’s Top Trading Partners, Japan’s Top 10 Imports and Japan’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
External Debt (for specified countries), CEIC Data. Accessed on August 8, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on February 1, 2018
The World Factbook, Field Listing: World, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 1, 2019
Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on August 8, 2019
Wikipedia, Economy of Japan. Accessed on February 1, 2018