ROME (Reuters) - Italy posted a record global trade surplus last year, data showed on Thursday, driven by higher exports to Japan and China and a decrease in imports from Russia.
In 2016, Italy posted a global trade surplus of 51.566 billion euros (44 billion pounds), the highest since the data series was established in 1991, national statistics office ISTAT said. In 2015, Italy had a surplus of 41.807 billion euros.
Exports to Japan jumped almost 10 percent last year, while those to China climbed 6.4 percent. In December, exports to China and the largest South American economies leapt 20 percent.
Imports from Russia, which has been hit by EU sanctions, fell 26 percent in 2016 from a year earlier.
The data offer a ray of hope to the euro zone's most chronically sluggish economy, which grew at about half the rate of its partners in the 19-nation bloc last year.
Excluding energy products, Italy would have had a surplus of 77.981 billion euros last year because the country depends heavily on foreign countries for its energy needs.
In December, the trade surplus with the rest of the world totalled 5.798 billion euros, rising from a surplus of 5.586 billion euros in the same month of 2015.
With European Union countries, Italy registered a December trade surplus of 124 million euros, compared with a deficit of 301 million euros in the same month last year, national statistics office ISTAT said.
According to Eurostat, Italy registered the third highest trade surplus in the European Union last year, with Germany recording a surplus of 257.3 billion euros and the Netherlands a surplus of 59.9 billion. Britain was at the bottom of the table, with a trade deficit of 204.5 billion euros.
Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Crispian Balmer