WASHINGTON -- America's trade deficit widened to an all-time high of $30.2 billion in March as a record foreign oil bill overwhelmed a rebound in American exports of farm products and autos. The deficit with China narrowed slightly but the trade gap with Japan rose to its highest level this year.
The Commerce Department reported today that the overall deficit increased by 5.1 percent from a revised February figure of $28.7 billion. The trade deficit continued to be the one glaring exception to the nation's current economic prosperity.
Stocks tumbled on Wall Street early today, with the Dow Jones industrial average dropping 120 points and the Nasdaq losing 95. Yields on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 6.52 percent from 6.53 percent late Thursday.
For March, U.S. exports, which have been lagging because of the lingering effects of the global financial crisis, showed a sharp rebound, rising by 2.9 percent to $87.3 billion, the highest level on record. The advance was powered by big gains in sales of autos and auto parts, computer chips, telecommunications equipment and industrial machinery.
However, that increase was overwhelmed by a 3.5 percent rise in imports, which also set a record at $117.4 billion, with large gains in imported oil, foreign autos and auto parts and aircraft.
The widening trade deficit is cited often by President Clinton's opponents, who are fighting his effort to normalize trade relations with China. That vote is expected to be close when the House takes up the measure next week.
For March, the deficit with China narrowed to $5.1 billion, down 9.3 percent from February. However, for the first three months of this year, the deficit with China is running a sizable 22.8 percent above the same period in 1999.
America's deficit with Japan rose 1.4 percent to $6.8 billion in March, the largest imbalance since a $7 billion gap in December as imports from that country set a record.
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