Trade deficit widened in December, dropped for the year

The trade gap widened in December but ended the year on a high note, falling to a four-year low on record exports. 

The trade deficit increased to $38.7 billion in December, a 12 percent increase over November's figure, which hit a four-year low, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

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U.S. exports for the month fell 1.8 percent to $191.3 billion, while imports were up 0.3 percent to $230 billion.

Overall, in last year the deficit fell to $471.5 billion, a drop of 11.8 percent from $534.7 billion in 2012 — the lowest level since 2009.

The lower deficit was helped by a 2.8 percent increase in exports, which reached $2.3 trillion, up about $700 billion since 2009, the Commerce Department said.

Meanwhile, imports fell 0.1 percent for the year. 

"We’ve achieved a fourth consecutive year of record-breaking export levels, demonstrating the strong momentum behind President Obama’s export agenda," said Commerce Secretary Penny PritzkerPenny Sue PritzkerDNC hauls in .5 million in June Michelle Obama officiated Chicago wedding: report Election Countdown: Trump plans ambitious travel schedule for midterms | Republicans blast strategy for keeping House | Poll shows Menendez race tightening | Cook Report shifts Duncan Hunter's seat after indictment MORE.

"The fact is, we live in a globally connected world in which 95 percent of America’s consumers live outside our borders. American companies clearly understand the value of selling their goods and services all over the world, which not only helps them expand, but also grows our economy and creates good jobs."

The U.S. ran a record trade deficit with China last year — $318.4 billion, which was a 1 percent increase over the $315.1 billion in 2012.

"Even America’s emerging energy trade advantage can’t mask the damage done by our record trade deficit with China," said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

"Since 2009, the trade deficit with China has risen by 40 percent," he said.

U.S. oil exports hit a record $137 billion last year, a 10.9 percent increase over 2012. 

Debate is raging in Congress over how to craft the best trade policies that moderate the nation's trade deficit.

A bipartisan majority in Congress is pressing the White House to include currency manipulation provisions in any future trade deals.

Lawmakers also have complained about China's unfair trade practices. They have urged the Obama administration to apply more pressure on Chinese leaders to make changes to their economy, including letting the value of their currency rise at a faster rate.