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U.S.-China Trade Deficit Hits Record, Fueling Trade Fight

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U.S.-China Trade Deficit Hits Record, Fueling Trade Fight


WASHINGTON — The United States trade deficit with China climbed to its highest level on record in 2017, a trend that could prompt the Trump administration toward tougher trade actions in the coming months.

The gap between Chinese goods imported to the United States and American goods exported to China rose to $375.2 billion last year, up from $347 billion the prior year, data released Tuesday morning by the Commerce Department showed.

The overall United States trade deficit in goods and services with the world widened 12.1 percent to $566 billion last year, the largest gap since 2008.

Economists said the growing trade deficit stemmed largely from the strength of the United States economy, which helped American consumers afford more imported electronics, clothes and appliances.

The declining value of the dollar last year, which makes American products cheaper to buy overseas, also helped to lift exports, but not enough to prevent the gap from widening.

The Trump administration has long promised to eliminate the trade gap, citing it as evidence of the decline of American manufacturing and a troubling reliance on foreign goods.

In a statement Tuesday, Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, said the administration would ultimately reduce the trade deficit by enforcing trade rules, renegotiating existing trade pacts and forming new ones.

He pointed to the President’s recent decision to impose tariffs on imports of solar panels and washing machines, as well as ongoing renegotiations of trade deals with Canada, Mexico and South Korea, as ways in which the United States would narrow the trade gap.

“Strenuous effort is underway, but it is not practical to set an exact deadline,” Mr. Ross said of closing the trade gap.

In September 2016, Peter Navarro and Mr. Ross, then senior economic advisers to the Trump campaign, proposed that President Trump would eliminate the $500 billion United States trade deficit, generating enough tax revenue to largely offset the cost of the president’s tax plan.

During the campaign, Mr. Navarro, now director of the White House National Trade Council, said that the administration’s trade plans would allow it to eliminate trade deficit “within a year or two.”

The trade deficit figures could strengthen the resolve of Mr. Trump’s trade advisers, including Mr. Navarro and Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, who want the United States to take a more aggressive stance on trade and are urging tougher action on trading partners that export more to the United States than they import, like China, Mexico and South Korea.


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