Trade deficit rises to 10-year high under Trump

The annual U.S. trade deficit reached a record high in 2018, despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE’s efforts to reduce foreign purchases and steer consumers toward American-made products.

The difference between the value of goods and services imported and exported by the U.S. rose $68.8 billion from 2017 to $621 billion in 2018, according to Commerce Department data released Wednesday. The monthly trade deficit for December 2018 rose to $59.8 billion, the widest gap for any month since October 2008.

Trump has made reducing the U.S. trade deficit one of his signature issues. He has focused especially China, which he says is a result of unfair trade deals that hinder American manufacturing and exports. To push back, Trump has imposed tariffs on billions of dollars in foreign goods, including steel, aluminum and Chinese exports. 

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But most economists counter that the metric does not reflect the full impact of global trade policies. Many say the deficit is driven by a strong U.S. dollar and economy that enables Americans to buy more foreign goods while making U.S. exports more expensive to international buyers.

The latest trade data comes as the Trump administration attempts to finalize a deal with the Chinese government to end a yearlong battle waged through retaliatory tariffs.

Trump has imposed tariffs on more than $250 billion in Chinese exports, while Beijing has responded with levies on U.S. crops and livestock. Even so, the U.S. trade deficit with China increased to $419 billion in 2018, while exports decreased by $9.6 billion to $120.3 billion and imports increased by $34.0 billion to $539.5 billion.

Trump has pledged to lift the new tariffs on Chinese goods if Beijing agrees to halt intellectual property theft from U.S. companies, ramp up purchases of U.S. crops and allow greater foreign access to domestic financial markets.

The president has said for months that he and Beijing are close to a deal, and Trump suggested a potential Mar-a-Lago summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping to finalize an agreement later this month.

Some of Trump’s top aides are less optimistic. U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerOn The Money: Economy adds 164K jobs in July | Trump signs two-year budget deal, but border showdown looms | US, EU strike deal on beef exports Chinese, US negotiators fine-tuning details of trade agreement: report The Trump economy keeps roaring ahead MORE told lawmakers last week that even if Trump strikes a deal with China, it could take years to hold Beijing accountable to its terms.