(AP) Japan's trade deficit in 2012 rose to a record 6.93 trillion yen ($78.3 billion), as fuel imports surged and a bitter territorial dispute with China hammered its exports.
The provisional figures reported by the Finance Ministry on Thursday showed the trade deficit narrowed, however, in December, to 641.5 billion yen ($7.25 billion) from the 954.8 billion yen shortfall in November. That's despite a 5.8 percent drop in exports for the month.
Energy imports surged 34 percent last year, to 24.08 trillion yen ($3.3 trillion). Rising costs for fuel and other commodities have pushed costs for Japanese manufacturers sharply higher after Japan's nuclear plants were taken offline following Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant accident following the earthquake and tsunami disasters in March 2011.
December was the sixth straight month of deficits. Exports have suffered from plunging demand in crisis-stricken Europe and troubles with China after a flare-up over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea prompted anti-Japanese protests last fall.
The annual trade deficit was a 170 percent increase from the deficit of 2.56 trillion yen recorded in 2011.
Japan's exports to China sank 10.8 percent last year, to 11.5 trillion yen ($130 billion) while imports rose 2.7 percent to 15.03 trillion yen ($170 billion), leaving a deficit of 3.52 trillion yen ($39.8 billion).
Exports to the European Union likewise fell, by nearly 15 percent, leaving a deficit of 139.7 billion yen ($1.6 billion).
But trade with North America, mainly the U.S., rebounded, with exports climbing 12 percent and imports about 2 percent, for a surplus of 4.9 trillion yen ($55.4 billion).