The U.S. trade deficit (search) narrowed more than expected in September as a rise in exports to unprecedented levels offset the impact of record-high prices for imported oil, a government report showed on Wednesday.

The monthly trade gap totaled $51.6 billion, down from a revised $53.5 billion in August, the Commerce Department (search) said. Economists had forecast the September trade deficit would come in at $53.5 billion, only slightly lower than the original estimate for August of $54.0 billion.

Exports hit a record $97.5 billion in September, suggesting the weakening dollar is making American goods more competitive around the world.

Still, in a sign global trade imbalances remain a long way from resolution, the politically-sensitive gap with China set another record at $15.5 billion, as imports from the Asian manufacturing powerhouse rose 1.7 percent to a record $18.4 billion.

The dollar has fallen against the currencies of major trading partners and has hit record lows versus the euro in large part on worries about a trade shortfall that remains on track to set a new record this year.

While the trade gap fell more than expected in September, it was still the third-highest on record.

Exports of consumer goods and industrial supplies and materials set records in September. Exports of autos and auto parts were second only to the record set in August.

Imports totaled $149.0 billion in September, down fractionally from August's record level. Average prices for imported oil hit $37.62 per barrel, up more than 40 percent from the same month last year, the data showed.

Non-oil imports hit a record $109.0 billion, led by record auto and auto parts imports and an increase in capital goods imports to the highest level since December 2000.