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Slump widens US trade deficit

THE United States trade deficit rose in March for the first time since last July as the global recession cut sharply into sales of American exports and the deficit with China increased.

The Commerce Department yesterday said the deficit widened to US$27.6 billion in March, slightly lower than the US$29-billion gap that economists had forecast.

The March deficit was 5.5 percent higher than February's revised US$26.1-billion trade gap, which had been the smallest since November 1999.

Through the first three months of this year, the deficit is running at an annual rate of US$359.7 billion, far below last year's US$681.1 billion. Economists expect the deficit will remain at low levels this year as a recession in the US crimps demand for foreign goods.

The global downturn also has cut into sales of US exports. That will limit the amount of improvement seen in the deficit.

For March, exports of goods and services fell 2.4 percent to US$123.6 billion, the lowest level since August 2006. Sales of farm products fell US$2.4 billion, while exports of capital goods slid US$1.7 billion, led by big drops in sales of civilian aircraft, telecommunications equipment, semiconductors, and domestic autos and auto parts.

Imports declined 1 percent to US$151.2 billion, the lowest level since September 2004. Imports of capital goods dropped US$516 million, led by declines in industrial machinery. The overall import level fell even though imports of oil rose 6.2 percent to US$17.2 billion, the highest level since January.

The deficit with China rose 10 percent to US$15.6 billion in March, the largest gap since January.

China yesterday reported its global export sales fell 22.6 percent last month from a year earlier.


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