US Trade Gap Widens on Rising Imports


THE United States trade deficit widened slightly more than expected in December, as stronger US economic growth lifted imports to the highest level in three and a half years.

The monthly US trade gap swelled to US$48.8 billion as goods imports climbed to the highest level since July 2008, just before the financial crisis caused world trade to plunge, the US Commerce Department reported yesterday.

Analysts surveyed before the report had expected the December trade deficit at US$48 billion, up from a revised estimate of US$47.1 billion in November.

US exports grew slightly in December, with records set for petroleum, services and advance technology goods.

Omer Esiner, chief market strategist at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington, said the meager growth in exports in December could be due to "somewhat soft global demand," raising longer-term concerns.

"Continued improvement in economic growth here will cause imports to improve. But it would be more concerning to see exports coming off the boil. That was a big part of the improvement we saw last year," Esiner said.

For the year, the US trade gap rose 11.6 percent to US$558 billion, the highest since 2008.

Exports last year rose 14.5 percent to a record US$2.1 trillion, keeping the US on pace to meet President Barack Obama's goal of doubling exports in five years.

Imports grew 13.8 percent to a record US$2.7 trillion, with records set in several categories.

Auto imports rose to the highest level since 2007 and petroleum was highest since 2008. The average price for imported oil in 2011 was a record-high US$99.78 per barrel

The closely watched deficit with China last year soared to a record-high US$295.5 billion.

US exports to China jumped 13.1 percent to US$103.9 billion. But that was overwhelmed by a 9.4 percent increase in imports from China, which pushed the tally to a record US$399.3 billion.

Even as the US trade shortfall with China grew, other data yesterday showed China's overall current account surplus shrank in 2011, offering China fresh evidence to show critics of its currency policy that it is relying less on external demand.

The US trade deficits with the European Union and Canada also expanded in 2011.


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