WASHINGTON – The U.S. trade deficit bulged to a record $40.1 billion in November, reflecting Americans' ravenous appetite for foreign-made goods, especially toys, TVs and clothes.
The Commerce Department reported Friday that the imbalance between what the United States sells abroad and what it imports swelled by 13.9 percent from the October deficit of $35.2 billion.
November's deficit was bigger than the $36.4 billion imbalance analysts were predicting.
Economists were forecasting a big widening in November's deficit as trade returned to more normal patterns following the resolution of a West Coast dock worker labor dispute last year.
The brief lockout had disrupted shipments in early October before President Bush used federal law to get dock workers back on the job. The dispute had cut into both imports and exports.
In November, both imports and exports rebounded. But imports grew more than three times faster than exports, thus propelling the trade deficit to an all-time monthly high.
To combat the deficit, the Bush administration says the United States should seek to boost American exports by attacking foreign trade barriers, rather than raising barriers to imports coming into the country.
On Wednesday the administration announced it had cleared away the last hurdle to a free trade agreement with Singapore, wrapping up a deal a month after a similar one with Chile.
The administration hopes these agreements, which must be approved by Congress, will serve as a springboard to an even bigger prize, a free trade agreement covering 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere.
Imports of goods and service jumped by 4.9 percent to $123.3 billion in November as the U.S. economic recovery help boost consumer demand for foreign-made goods.
Imports of consumer goods -- a broad category of items that includes TVs, toys, apparel and household appliances rose by $2.7 billion to a new monthly record of $27.8 billion in November.
And, imports of foods, feeds and beverages also reached an all-time monthly high of $4.4 billion in November.
Exports, meanwhile, rose 1.1 percent to $83.2 billion in November. Although national economies around the globe are still recovering from a worldwide slump, they are healing more slowly than the United States and that has restrained demand for U.S. products.
Still, sales of U.S.-made consumer goods, such TVs and VCRs and toys, to other countries climbed to $7.3 billion in November, the highest level since July 2001.
But exports of cars slipped in November to $6.3 billion. Exports of capital goods, a broad category that includes airplanes, semiconductors, computers and medical equipment also lost ground, declining to $24.5 billion, in November.
By country, the United States' deficit with China widened to $10.5 billion in November, the second highest level on record.
The country's deficit with Japan increased to $6.5 billion in November as imports from the country climbed to the highest level since October 2001.
The trade deficit with Korea increased to a record $1.6 billion in November.
Going forward, a weaker U.S. dollar and healing economies abroad should help bolster U.S. exports, economists say.