TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan had a goods trade deficit of 578.3 billion yen ($5.2 billion) in May, the first red ink in three months as imports of crude oil and aircraft surged, government data showed Monday.
The deficit increased 2.8-fold year-on-year despite a rise in exports of automobiles and manufacturing equipment for electronic parts, according to a preliminary report by the Finance Ministry.
Imports were up 14.0 percent from a year earlier to 6.90 trillion yen, outpacing an 8.1 percent rise in exports to 6.32 trillion yen.
Crude oil imports rose for the 18th straight month amid rising prices, swelling 28.6 percent to 679.4 billion yen in the reporting month.
By region, Japan marked a 340.7 billion yen trade surplus with the United States, down 17.3 percent from a year earlier as imports of aircraft and engines surged.
Steel exports to the United States fell in volume despite rising in value, but a ministry official who briefed reporters said it was not yet clear if this was the result of Washington's new 25 percent tariff on the metal.
"The biggest concern for global economic growth right now is protectionist U.S. trade policies...If the United States chooses to place additional tariffs on cars and car parts, that would have a huge impact on our domestic industry," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at the Norinchukin Research Institute.
Against its largest trade partner, China, Japan saw a 280.2 billion yen deficit amid a rise in imports of clothing and metals used in shipbuilding.
But the deficit was 10.4 percent smaller from a year earlier as exports of equipment to produce liquid crystal displays used in smartphones and TVs continued to be robust.
Looking at the whole of Asia, Japan logged a surplus of 345.9 billion yen, up 13.2 percent.
Japanese carmakers continued to see strong demand from the European Union, although a rise in imports of aircraft components from Germany contributed to the overall trade deficit ballooning threefold to 123.8 billion yen.
The figures were compiled on a customs-cleared basis.