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Trade deficit falls to three-year low of $43.1 billion

The U.S. trade deficit, a longtime irritant to President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE, fell to a three-year low of $43.1 billion in November, according to new Commerce Department data released Tuesday.

The 8.2 percent decline in the trade deficit followed a $2.5 billion drop in imports, paired with a $1.4 billion increase in exports from October.

The latest figures suggest an overall deficit drop in 2019, which saw a slight, $0.1 billion drop in exports in the first 11 months while imports dropped $3.9 billion as compared to the same period in 2018.

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The drop will be welcome news to President Trump, who has railed against the deficit as a sign of American weakness. While deficits are subtracted from calculations of gross domestic product size, economists say they are not inherently good or bad for the economy's well-being. Some worry that the decrease in imports could indicate softness in domestic demand, a key driver of growth.

During Trump's tenure, the monthly deficit rose as high as $60.8 billion last December and waded through similar lows in the $43 billion range throughout 2017. The last time the trade deficit hit $43.1 billion, however, was the month before his election in 2016.

Trump has sought to remake America's trade relationship, initiating a severe trade war with China and imposing tariffs on key trade partners and pushing to renegotiate trade deals.  

The Senate is expected to pass an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement as early as this week, and Trump said he would sign a preliminary trade deal with China on Jan. 15.

But major issues remain on the table, and many tariffs remain in place. Trade troubles have been a major stumbling block for businesses in an otherwise healthy economy.