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US trade deficit narrows to $45.3 billion in January

Specialist Anthony Rinaldi prepares for the day's trading, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, March 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Specialist Anthony Rinaldi prepares for the day's trading, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, March 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in January as exports fell but imports fell more. The politically sensitive trade gap with China widened.

The Commerce Department said Friday that the divide between what the U.S. sells and what it buys abroad dropped 6.7% in January to $45.3 billion.

Exports of goods and services slipped 0.4% in January. Imports dropped 1.6%. Both exports and imports of crude oil dropped in January, reflecting falling energy prices.

President Donald Trump campaigned against America’s persistent trade deficits -- especially the vast gap with China -- calling them the result of abusive practices by U.S. trading partners and bad trade agreements negotiated by his predecessors. He has imposed taxes on $360 billion in Chinese imports to protest Beijing’s trade policies. And he pushed through a revamped North American trade agreement meant to bring manufacturing back to the United States.

Last year, the U.S. trade deficit dropped for the first time in six years.

Exports of civilian aircraft, which can bounce around from month to month, dropped sharply in January. Exports of U.S. soybeans shot up 27.4%. As part of an interim trade deal signed in January, China agreed to step up purchases of U.S. soybeans and other agricultural products.

Still, the January gap in the trade of goods with China rose 5.1% in January to $26.1 billion. The January gap fell 12.3% with Mexico and 44.2% with Canada.

The United States ran a $21.7 billion surplus in the trade of services such as banking and education in January, boosted by a record $72.2 billion in services exports. But it recorded a $67 billion deficit in the trade of goods such as cars and appliances.