US trade deficit rises to highest level since 2008

The U.S. trade deficit rose nearly $1 billion in October, reaching the highest level in a decade as imports outpaced declining exports, according to federal data released Thursday.

The gap in value between what the U.S. sells to and buys from foreign nations rose to $55.5 billion in October, the fifth consecutive monthly increase in the country’s trade deficit in goods and services, according to the Commerce Department.

October’s trade deficit was the biggest since the gap reached $60.1 billion in October 2008. The deficit, a crucial focus of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE’s protectionist trade agenda, has risen 11.4 percent since October 2017.

Trump has sought massive reductions to the trade deficit, which he uses as a barometer for the fairness of the country’s trade terms with other nations. Economists consider the gap important, but insufficient to paint the full picture of U.S. trade relations.

While the trade deficit reflects the U.S’s heavy reliance on cheaper foreign imports, it fails to consider other trade venues where the country makes a surplus.

Trump has attempted to narrow the deficit through tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods, and has also targeted imported steel and aluminum. China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico have responded with import taxes on U.S. agricultural goods, plunging dozens of family farms into severe financial danger.

Despite Trump’s efforts, U.S. imports increased 0.2 percent from September, rising $600 million to $266.5 billion in October. Exports fell $300 million from September, to $211 billion — a 0.1 percent drop.

U.S. food and agricultural exports fell by $700 million in October, with soybean shipments — a major target of retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. — dropping $800 million, a 46.8 percent decline.

The report comes as mounting trade tensions between the U.S. and China roil global financial markets and fuel concerns of an imminent economic slowdown. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by almost 500 points Thursday morning, the first day of trading after U.S. authorities secured the arrest of a Chinese technology company executive.

Trump also spooked Wall Street on Tuesday when, in a series of tweets, he declared himself "a Tariff Man” who would raise import taxes on China if Beijing does not offer major trade concessions. The Trump administration is asking Beijing to drop tariffs on U.S. autos, open up markets to foreign investors and halt intellectual property theft from U.S. manufacturers and tech firms.