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US trade deficit falls in 2019 for first time in 6 years

The US trade deficit fell last year to $616.8 billion, the first time the gap has narrowed since 2013 as imports, particularly from China, declined more than exports, according to government data released today. 

As President Donald Trump’s trade confrontations escalated in 2019, the total trade gap shrunk by nearly $10 billion as exports fell by 0.1% and imports dropped 0.4%, the Commerce Department reported.

Excluding services, the US deficit in goods fell by nearly $20 billion to $866 billion last year, as imports of Chinese products hit by Trump’s punitive tariffs dropped 17.6%, according to the report. 

That decline was offset by big increases in imports from top US trading partners Canada, which surged 42%, and Mexico, which jumped 26%. 

The narrowing of the US trade gap comes after a year when the deficit reached its highest level in a decade. 

In addition to the trade conflicts, the strong US dollar put American exports at a disadvantage, while China’s slowing economy weakened the yuan and boosted exports from that country. 

And while that was the goal of Trump’s trade policy, it is not necessarily good news because a drop in exports often reflects a slowing economy. 

In fact, growth in the world’s largest economy slowed in 2019 to 2.3% compared to 2.9% in 2018, as business sharply curtailed investment due to the trade uncertainty.

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