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Jan 24, 7:36 PM EST

Japan trade deficit falls in 2015 on lower oil import costs

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TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's trade deficit fell to its lowest level in four years in 2015, the Finance Ministry reported Monday, as import costs dropped thanks to the collapse in oil prices.

Preliminary figures show exports rose 3.5 percent in 2015 from the year before, while imports dropped 8.7 percent. The deficit compared with a record 12.8 trillion yen deficit in 2014.

Japan slipped into deficits after the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima led to closures of reactors, pushing up imports of oil and gas.

Japan's trade balance swung to a surplus in December, as oil prices tumbled and the yen gained against other currencies.

The December trade surplus of 140.2 billion yen ($1.2 billion) compared with a deficit of 379.7 billion yen in November and a deficit of 665.6 billion yen in December 2014.

However, exports have been weakening over the past year, as China's economy has slowed. After rising 7.9 percent in January-June over the same period the year before, exports rose a scant 0.6 percent in July-December.

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