Trump pledge undermined as US trade deficit widens
The US trade deficit jumped by nearly 19% in December, pushing the trade imbalance for all of 2018 to widen to a decade-long high of 621 billion US dollars.
The gap with China on goods widened to an all-time record of 419.2 billion dollars.
The new Commerce Department figures undermined a key commitment by President Donald Trump, who promised to cut the trade imbalance on the belief that it would bring back overseas factory jobs and bolster the broader US economy.
But America's dependence on imports appears to have increased after the tariffs that Mr Trump imposed last year on foreign steel, aluminium and Chinese products.
An acceleration in economic growth last year from Mr Trump's debt-funded tax cuts helped to boost the appetite for foreign goods.
The gap between what the United States sells and what it buys from other countries rose to 59.8 billion dollars in December from 50.3 billion dollars in November, the Commerce Department said. Adjusted for inflation, December was the highest imbalance on trade goods in US history.
On an annual basis, the trade gap widened 12.5%. The trade gap reached the largest total since 2008, when it was 708.7 billion dollars. That imbalance fell in the aftermath of that year's financial crisis as the United States and other nations plunged into severe recessions.
December's trade imbalance worsened because US imports rose 2.1% as Americans bought more household appliances, mobile phones and computer products from abroad. Simultaneously, US exports fell 1.9% as foreign demand for civilian aircraft and oil products declined.
Mr Trump hit roughly half of Chinese imports with taxes last year, a move designed to kick-start trade negotiations with the goal of increasing exports to that country and stopping the forced turnover of US technology and theft of intellectual property.
China retaliated, and the simmering trade war inflamed financial markets last year. US and Chinese officials have recently signalled that they are close to some kind of agreement, although China has only bolstered its commitment to investing in and developing its technology sector and questions about how to enforce any trade rules remain.
In addition to a record trade gap in goods with China, the imbalance reached new peaks with Mexico (81.5 billion dollars) and the European Union (169.3 billion dollars). The United States ran a record surplus last year with South and Central America.