Cosmo Oil shut down its 220,000 barrel-per-day refinery near Tokyo, after fire broke out at the facility's storage tanks. JX Nippon closed three other plants with a total capacity of about 600,000 barrels per day.
Japan is a significant player in the global trade arena where it ranks 4th in exports and 5th in imports....a key trading partner to be sure, but nowhere near as significant as another Asian giant -- China. For years, China has exported more than it imports from the U.S.
And in the government's latest report on international trade China emerged again as a key reason why America continues to be mired in trade deficits.
There were bright spots in the otherwise gloomy report. U.S. exports rose nearly 3 percent to an all-time high of $168 billion. But surging oil prices fueled the largest monthly increase in U.S. imports in 18 years.
America's oil bill drove imports to a total of $214 billion and some analysts believe that will hamper the domestic economic recovery.
But the trade deficit itself also weighs heavily on the comeback, since it means more jobs for workers overseas instead of in the U.S.
U.S. exports were driven by strong sales of autos, industrial machinery, medical equipment and, of course, farm goods. The last time domestic exports were near this level was right before the financial crisis of 2008.
America's politically sensitive trade deficit with China soared to $23 billion in January. China traditionally enjoys a trade surplus with the rest of the world. But in February, the Chinese government actually reported a surprising trade deficit of $7.3 billion. Some analysts were quick to point out the slowdown was likely temporary, due to the Chinese New Year holiday which lasts up to 15 days.
President Obama wants to double U.S exports by 2015. But his goal likely will need a tougher trade stance with China to succeed. And critics want the Obama Administration to pressure China to stop manipulating its currency.