TOKYO - Japan recorded a trade surplus for September of 139.6 billion yen ($1.2 billion), but exports fell 1.2 percent from the previous year, marking the first decline since 2016, after several natural disasters.
Trailing exports are also reflecting uncertainties over trade tensions set off by President Donald Trump's policies. Declining U.S.-China trade generally hurts the export-dependent Japanese economy.
September imports rose 7 percent, according to data released Thursday by the Ministry of Finance.
During the month, a major earthquake hit the northernmost island of Hokkaido, causing fatal landslides and widespread blackouts, while a typhoon struck the western Kansai area and temporarily shut down a major airport.
Those events followed deadly flooding in southwestern Japan and a quake in Osaka earlier this year.
The last time Japan's exports fell on-year was in November 2016, when they slipped 0.4 percent, data show.
For the six months through September, the first fiscal half, exports grew 5.2 percent, while imports rose 10 percent.
The Trump administration has plans to pursue trade agreements with the European Union and Britain, as well as with Japan. The administration recently reached a deal with Canada and Mexico to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement.