By Stanley White
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's exports to the United States fell in June for the first time in 17 months amid worries about U.S. President Donald Trump's protectionist trade policies.
Exports to the United States fell 0.9 percent in June from the same period a year ago due to a decline in shipments of cars and semiconductor manufacturing equipment, two of Japan's most important export products.
The decline, while slight, could still raise concerns among Japanese policymakers who worry whether Trump will push Japan to take concrete measures to lower its trade surplus with the United States.
"Overall exports remain healthy for now, but we are not sure how things are going to turn out on the trade policy front," said Shuji Tonouchi, senior market economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
"It is possible talk of tariffs and trade friction could reduce corporate investment."
Imports from the United States fell 2.1 percent year-on-year due a decline in crude oil, aircraft, and coal.
As a result, Japan's trade surplus with the United States was 590.3 billion yen, up 0.5 percent from the same period a year ago.
Japan's trade surplus with the United States may draw criticism as Trump's administration raises tariffs to lower the U.S. trade deficit and combat what it says are unfair trade policies.
The United States this month imposed 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods to lower the U.S. trade deficit, and China quickly retaliated with an increase in tariffs on U.S. goods.
Trump has imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminium, a blow to Japanese exporters, and has also criticised Japan for the small number of American vehicles it imports.
Japan's overall exports rose 6.7 percent in June from the same period a year ago, less than the median estimate for a 7.0 percent annual increase expected by economists in a Reuters poll. Exports grew an annual 8.1 percent in May.
Exports are likely to continue to grow because global demand remains firm, but Japan's trade surplus with the United States makes it a potential target for Trump's protectionist policies.
Japan's imports rose 2.5 percent in the year to June, versus the median estimate for a 7.0 percent increase.
The trade balance was a surplus of 721.4 billion yen ($6.40 billion), versus the median estimate for a 534.2 billion yen surplus.
($1 = 112.8000 yen)
(Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Eric Meijer)
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Updated Date: Jul 19, 2018 07:05 AM