Political News

US trade deficit shrinks, but it's still bigger than when Trump took office

Posted February 5, 2020 11:44 a.m. EST

— The US trade deficit shrank for the first time in six years in 2019 as President Donald Trump continued to ramp up his trade war with China.

The deficit in goods and services narrowed by 1.7% to $616.8 billion last year, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday.

Trump has pledged to narrow the deficit and bring manufacturing back to the United States. But the gap between exports and imports is still higher than when he took office. It's the second biggest gap since 2008.

Both imports, which Trump has hit with tariffs, and US exports, which have been hurt by other country's retaliatory tariffs, fell in 2019.

That was also true with China specifically, where the President's approach appears to have slowed trade. The goods trade deficit with China fell to $345.6 billion -- the lowest level since 2014.

Imports of Chinese-made goods fell 16% last year. But American exporters also struggled to sell their goods to China and exports fell 11%.

Rather than bringing manufacturing back to the United States, some importers are shifting their suppliers to other countries, like Vietnam and South Korea. Imports from both places jumped last year.

Trade tensions between Washington and Beijing eased after the two parties signed a preliminary, "phase one" deal in January. It mandates that China increase its purchases of goods, services and agricultural products by $200 billion over the next two years, compared to 2017 levels.

But some analysts are skeptical those pledges will be met, especially because China has not agreed to lift the tariffs it has imposed on US-grown produce or manufactured goods that make them more expensive to Chinese importers than what they can buy from other countries.

Trump has left tariffs on about $370 billion of Chinese goods, or nearly two-thirds of what the United States imports from China. The taxes have raised the price for items such as baseball hats, luggage, bicycles, TVs, sneakers and a variety of materials used by American manufacturers.

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