The annual U.S. trade deficit reached a record high in 2018, despite President TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story 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.
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 LighthizerBob LighthizerBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Whiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' 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.