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Trade War

US trade deficit in goods grows to record $77bn in October

American threat of higher tariffs prompts push for imports from China instead

Shipping containers sit at a port in Shanghai. American imports from China surged after the Trump administration threatened to raise tariffs in 2019.   © AP

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. trade deficit in goods climbed to a monthly record in October fueled by the trade war with Beijing, as importers rushed to acquire Chinese goods ahead of threatened higher tariffs while American farm and automobile exports suffered from retaliatory levies imposed by China.

The October deficit grew 0.9% from September to $76.98 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis, the U.S. Commerce Department reported Thursday. The red ink against China, accounting for roughly half the total, rose 2% to $38.18 billion, worsening for the sixth month in a row.

The U.S. deficit with China totals $343.58 billion for the January-October period, up 11.3% on the year and on pace to surpass the annual record set in 2017.

Much of the American trade deficit was caused by the swelling volume of aggregate imports, which hit a record $217.84 billion in October on a 0.1% increase from a month earlier. U.S. imports of consumer goods also reached an all-time high.

President Donald Trump's administration authorized a 10% tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods in September, much of it involving consumer products. But the White House threatened at the time to lift the rate to 25% at the start of 2019, sparking a rush in demand for the affected Chinese goods. Washington and Beijing have since agreed on a freeze in tariffs until the end of February.

Meanwhile, U.S. exports to the Asian country plunged 25.9% as Chinese state-owned enterprises and other mainland importers apparently shied away from farm products and other American-made goods subject to retaliatory duties. Overall, exports dipped 0.3% to $140.86 billion. Soybean exports tanked in October, falling for the fourth straight month.

U.S. auto industry exports also slumped amid the retaliatory tariffs installed by China in July. The tariffs enacted by the European Union, Canada and other trading partners on farm and industrial products, which came in response to Washington's tariffs on steel and aluminum items, also hurt American exports.

The U.S. trade deficit against Japan jumped 12.1% in October to $5.51 billion. The two sides are scheduled to open trade negotiations at the start of next year.

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