TOKYO, Oct 22 — Kuwait’s trade surplus with Japan narrowed for the first time in four months in September, plunging 17.2 percent to JPY 72.0 billion (USD 674 million) from a year earlier, as imports soared, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday.

But Kuwait maintained black ink with Japan for the 80th consecutive month, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

Kuwaiti overall exports to Japan fell 10.8 percent year-on-year to JPY 93.1 billion (USD 871 million) for the first decline in four months, while imports from Japan jumped 21.8 percent to JPY 21.1 billion (USD 197 million), up for the third month.

Middle East’s trade surplus with Japan also edged down 1.7 percent to JPY 1.022 trillion (USD 9.6 billion) last month, although Japan-bound exports from the region gained 3.4 percent from a year earlier.

Crude oil, refined products, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other natural resources, which accounted for 97.4 percent of the region’s total exports to Japan, went up 3.5 percent. The region’s overall imports from Japan jumped 27.4 percent, thanks to robust shipments of automobile, steel, machinery and electric equipment.

The world’s third-biggest economy registered a global deficit of JPY 958.3 billion (USD 9.0 billion) in September, up 1.6 percent on the year, chiefly due to increased shipments of LNG and Apple Inc.’s new smartphones, the ministry said.

It marked the 27th straight month of shortfall and the biggest trade deficit for the month of September since comparable data became available in January 1979.

Overall exports climbed 6.9 percent to JPY 6.383 trillion (USD 59.7 billion), thanks to strong demand for vehicles, steel and ships. Imports also rose 6.2 percent to JPY 7.341 trillion (USD 68.7 billion), as the weaker yen pushed up costs for the bills, especially LNG and the new iPhones.

Exports to China, Japan’s biggest trading partner, grew 8.8 percent, and imports from the country expanded 8.3 percent, posting a deficit with China for the 31st straight month.

Japan’s currency weakened against the US dollar by 6.2 percent from the year before, according to the ministry. The yen’s depreciation supports exports by making Japanese products more competitive overseas and increase the value of repatriated overseas earning, but it also inflates import prices.

The trade data are measured on a customs-cleared basis before adjustment for seasonal factors.