TOKYO (AP) _ Japan's trade surplus with the rest of the world rose for a 19th straight month in October, surging 23.9 percent compared to a year ago, the government said Thursday.

The merchandise trade surplus, a measure of goods which pass customs, grew to a non-seasonally adjusted $11.33 billion last month, the Finance Ministry said.

The surplus was slightly higher than the $10.93 billion average forecast of Tokyo-based economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires.

Despite the continued expansion in the trade surplus, the ministry said exports fell 5.7 percent in October _ the first year-on-year drop in five months.

Analysts said the decline in exports may signal that slower global growth has started to have a negative impact on Japan.

``This may be a sign that the slowdown in the world economy is beginning to hold back Japan's exports,'' said Yoshito Sakakibara, an economist in the Tokyo office of Goldman Sachs.

Japan's politically sensitive trade surplus with the United States rose 31.9 percent on the year to $5.95 billion.

The steady climb in the surplus reflects consumers' reluctance to spend amid Japan's worst recession in decades. That has cut demand for imports and made Japanese manufacturers increasingly reliant on sales overseas.

Japan has been under heavy pressure from trade partners such as the U.S to boost domestic demand by putting its economy back on track for recovery.

Before departing on a trip to Asia, President Bill Clinton said in Washington on Wednesday that Japan must take decisive steps to engineer a recovery.