0140 GMT February 16, 2019
The Commerce Department said Friday that the trade gap — the difference between what America sells and what it buys abroad — rose to $53.2 billion in August from $50 billion in July. The August reading was the highest since February.
Imports rose 0.6 percent to a record $262.7 billion on higher shipments of cellphones and autos; exports slid 0.8 percent to $209.4 billion.
The US ran a $76.7 billion deficit in the trade of goods such as machinery and cars. That gap was partially offset by a $23.5 billion surplus in the trade of services such as banking and tourism.
President Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to bring down US trade deficits and has slapped taxes on imported steel, aluminum and on many Chinese products, drawing retaliatory tariffs from US trading partners.
Trump’s sanctions have yet to have an impact on the deficit, which is up 8.6 percent this year to $391.1 billion. The goods deficit with China rose 4.7 percent in August to a record $38.6 billion; and the gap with Mexico widened 56.9 percent to $8.7 billion, also a record.
Trump sees the lopsided trade numbers as a sign of US economic weakness and as the result of bad trade deals and abusive practices by US trading partners, especially China.
In addition to imposing import taxes, he has pulled out of an Asia-Pacific trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration and forced a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
Mainstream economists view trade deficits as the result of an economic reality unlikely to bend to changes in trade policy: Americans spend more than they produce, and imports fill the gap. The strong US economy also encourages Americans to buy more foreign products.
US exports are also hurt by the American dollar’s role as the world’s currency. The dollar is usually in high demand because it is used in so many global transactions. That means the dollar is persistently strong, raising prices of US products and putting American companies at a disadvantage in foreign markets.
Meanwhile, US exports of crude oil and other petroleum products fell by a combined $1.6 billion for the month, but this was offset by $1.6 billion jump in exports of artwork, antiques and pharmaceuticals, the Commerce Department reported.
Exports of corn, juices, auto parts, crude oil and gold also fell.
On the other side of the ledger, imports of autos rose $1 billion while imports of mobile phones and other household goods rose by $900 million.
Time and AFP contributed to this story.