United States trade deficit surges to 10-year high in 2018

Senior White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington

Despite Trump's promise and his efforts to address the trade deficit through increased tariffs, after two years in office, it rose to a record $891.2 billion, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. The United States ran a record surplus past year with South and Central America.

Simultaneously, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates four times a year ago to offset fears of an overheating economy, thereby increasing the strength of the dollar and encouraging purchase of relatively low-priced foreign goods. Imports jumped 7.5 percent to $3.12 trillion on purchases of items from pharmaceuticals to computers, along with services such as travel. Imports of goods and services increased 2.1 percent to $264.9 billion in December.

While Trump often blames poor trade agreements for the trade deficit, that may not be the whole story. "Analysts should expect higher deficits in the months ahead as global growth slows, and the economic expansion in the US continues at an above-trend pace".

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Trump has been especially vocal about lowering the deficit gap, citing it as a failure of previous trade policy. A strong American dollar also boosted the number.

The tariffs he threatened and then imposed on Chinese imports caused a rush by importers to get ahead of the new duties that fuelled an increase in incoming traffic at West Coast ports a year ago. Economists at the Institute of International Finance last week calculated Chinese retaliatory tariffs alone were causing roughly $40 billion a year in lost US exports.

David Dollar, economist, expert on China and senior fellow at the China Center at the Brookings Institute, told students and faculty the world is nervous about rising protectionism in the USA and America's imposition of trade tariffs on China during a lecture February 26 in Mandeville Hall.

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Economists speculate that the trade deficit is growing because of broad economic forces, including a chronic shortfall in national savings that was exacerbated by last year's $1.5 trillion corporate and personal income tax cut. For the European Union, by comparison, exports and imports both surged, though imports posted a larger gain.

The increased trade gap along with weak home construction figures for December likely means slower economic growth during the final three months of 2018, according to Jim O'Sullivan, chief USA economist at High Frequency Economics. The real petroleum gap shrank to $US141.7 billion as exports increased.

'It looks broadly consistent with our view that job growth remained solid in February despite cooling from the boomy figures reported for the prior several months, ' said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in NY. January figures are due March 27.

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China and the United States have been embroiled in a trade dispute since last June, when Trump announced that the United States would subject $50 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent tariffs in a bid to fix the US-Chinese trade deficit.

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