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U.S. Annual Trade Gap Grows to Biggest Since Financial Crisis

Bloomberg
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February 5, 2021

By Eric Martin (Bloomberg) —

The U.S. last year posted its biggest annual trade deficit since 2008 as the global health crisis depressed export markets for American companies.

The gap in trade of goods and services widened to $678.7 billion in 2020 from $576.9 billion in 2019, according to Commerce Department data released Friday. The December deficit narrowed 3.5% from the prior month to $66.6 billion, but is wider than the $65.7 billion median estimate of economists.

The pandemic played a pivotal role in spoiling Donald Trump’s four-year push to rebalance the deficit, with Covid-19 crimping demand and upending supply chains. The former president slapped hundreds of billions of dollars of tariffs on the European Union and on China, sparking a trade war that hurt U.S. manufacturing and agriculture even as it protected some slices of industry like steelmakers.

China regained the top spot among U.S. trade partners for goods after finishing behind Mexico and Canada in 2019. The Asian nation and the U.S. a year ago signed the first phase of a trade agreement that’s supposed to see China buying an extra $200 billion of American goods in two years, the result of nearly three years of contentious talks that roiled markets. 

For the full year, exports plunged 16%, the most in six decades of data, to $2.13 trillion, the least since 2010. The decline was propelled by a 61% drop in travel, which represents visitors to the U.S., to $76.1 billion. Transport exports retreated by more than one-third to $56.4 billion.

Imports declined 9.5% to $2.81 trillion, the smallest value in four years.

The merchandise-trade deficit for 2020 swelled to $915.8 billion, the most since records started in 1961, while the nation’s surplus in services fell 18% to $237.1 billion, the smallest since 2012.

Overall, the value of U.S. exports plus imports in December rose to $446.5 billion, the highest since February, but still down from $469 billion at the end of 2019.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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