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Note:  So many new records and multi-year highs were revealed by the March trade figures released this morning by the Census Bureau that I’m posting this abbreviated, just calculated, write-up — containing all the main highlights — rather than the usual lengthier, more comprehensive version.

America’s goods and services trade deficit slipped by 0.12 percent on month in March, to $43.71 billion, but the decline was more than offset by a noteworthy 0.47 percent upward revision to the originally reported February figure – to $43.76 billion. This modest movement, moreover, masked major deterioration in America’s trade balances with Pacific Rim countries, many of whose surpluses with the United States had been depressed by winter or spring holidays. 

Whereas in February, the American goods deficit with that region plunged sequentially by 30.76 percent, it rebounded in March by 25.39 percent, to $33.55 billion – the biggest such jump since last March 2015’s 52.63 percent. The greatest (15.53 percent) monthly merchandise import increase since then was largely responsible. Although the China goods deficit remained high – mainly because U.S. merchandise exports in March fell for the fifth straight month – the biggest trade swings were recorded with Japan and South Korea. Significantly, March marked the fifth anniversary of the implementation of the bilateral U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (KORUS) 

The March merchandise deficit with Japan soared by nearly 55 percent, to its highest level ($7.42 billion) since April, 2008 ($7.61 billion). And American goods imports from Japan rose by 32.12 percent to $13.04 billion – their highest total since March, 2007 ($13.47 billion). 

U.S. merchandise exports to South Korea hit a new monthly all-time high in March ($4.36 billion), imports rose to their second highest level ever ($6.61 billion), and the large sequential gains left the goods deficit at $2.25 billion. That was 73.50 percent higher than a February figure that itself had fallen by nearly 50 percent.  

Since KORUS’ implementation, in March, 2012, the U.S. merchandise deficit with South Korea has more than quadrupled (from $561.4 million) on a monthly basis.  By that same measure, U.S. goods exports to South Korea are up by 3.99 percent, and goods imports are 38.08 percent higher. 

The huge and chronic U.S. goods deficit with China rose by 7.03 percent sequentially in March, to $24.58 billion, but remained well below record levels. Nonetheless, American merchandise exports to China’s still strongly growing economy fell for the fifth straight month, to $9.63 billion. That was their lowest level since last September ($9.56 billion). 

Asia events also clearly influenced the big on month rebounds in the March trade deficits for manufacturing (up 15.23 percent, to $69.76 billion, after dropping by 19.88 percent) and high tech goods (up 33.87 percent, to $6.07 billion, after plummeting by 46.39 percent).

New records and multi-year highs were set in U.S. trade on other fronts, too. American goods exports to the European Union hit $25.69 billion – a new all-time best. Goods imports from NAFTA partner, Mexico, however, hit a new record as well ($21.02 billion), and helped boost the bilateral merchandise to its highest level ($7.03 billion) since November, 2007 ($7.23 billion) – just before the Great Recession officially began. The United States fared better with its other NAFTA partner, Canada. Its merchandise deficit sank by 35.49 percent, to $1.37 billion, as exports of $24.92 billion represented the best such total since March, 2015 ($25.50 billion), and imports of $26.29 billion represented their highest level since June, 2015 ($27.34 billion).

U.S. global services exports rose in March to a new record high as well ($64.70 billion), and helped push the surplus to its best level ($21.80 billion) since June, 2015 ($22.41 billion). As for overall goods and services exports and imports, they both fell sequentially in March (by 1.02 percent and 0.73 percent, respectively). 

The trade drag on the historically feeble American economic recovery declined as well, from 17.55 percent in the fourth quarter of last year to 17.44 percent of during the first quarter of this year, but still slowed the economy’s cumulative expansion by a staggering $433.76 billion after inflation.

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