US trade deficit widens in April

Crude oil storage tanks are seen from above at the Cushing oil hub in Cushing, Oklahoma.
Crude oil storage tanks are seen from above at the Cushing oil hub in Cushing, Oklahoma.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US trade gap widened in April for the second straight month as Americans bought more imported consumer goods, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

Despite falling oil imports and crude prices, the US trade deficit saw its biggest jump in three months, increasing 5.2 per cent or US$2.3 billion (S$3.2 billion) compared to March to US$46.7 billion, with exports falling and imports rising.

The consecutive increases in the deficit come as the Trump administration presses ahead with a nationalist trade agenda, making the elimination of bilateral trade deficits a central goal of economic policy.

President Donald Trump this week made the US trade deficit with Germany a bone of contention and the administration is reviewing trade agreements with an eye to correcting imbalances, including renegotiating the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement.

The trade deficit with Germany in goods alone was US$5.5 billion in April, while the goods and services deficit for the first quarter totaled US$17.2 billion.

In addition to the increased deficit in April, the Commerce Department also revised the March trade deficit up by US$1.6 billion. For the first four months of the year, the deficit increased US$22.1 billion or 13.4 per cent from the same period of 2016.

Exports in April fell marginally to US$191 billion, with US sales to foreign markets of consumer goods hitting their lowest level in 11 months at US$15.7 billion.

Exports to South Korea were the highest on record at US$4.4 billion while exports to Japan near a three-year high at US$6 billion.

But imports rose US$1.9 billion to US$238.6 billion, with imports of capital goods seeing their biggest increase since April 2015 at US$51.5 billion, and food and beverage imports at their highest ever at US$11.5 billion.