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Big U.S. Trade Deficit Has Some Worried

The U.S. trade deficit (search) — the difference between the value of imports Americans buy and the value of U.S. goods foreign consumers buy — hit a record high of $617 billion in 2004, and some are concerned.

“They are dangerous because of what they're doing to the economy,” said Peter Morici, an economist with the University of Maryland, of massive deficits. “They are dangerous because of their impact on our industrial base, on our ability to produce goods and services.”

Asian countries, in particular, run huge trade surpluses with America. China (search) commands the biggest — $162 billion last year. One reason for this is that the Chinese keep their currency abnormally low; they reduce the value of their merchandise by up to 40 percent and then sell their products for cheaper in the U.S.

Morici contends it is risky business for America to go deeper in the red in the waters of the international marketplace.

“We're living beyond our means. The trade deficit is not free, to finance it we have to borrow money,” Morici said.

But that is the "glass-half-empty" view of deficits. Some experts argue that, all things considered, they are not really a big problem.

“The trade deficit is probably the most overblown statistic collected by government,” said Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

"Let's compare the U.S. and Germany. Germany has a trade surplus, we have a trade deficit; they have ten percent unemployment, we have 5.5 percent unemployment."

What trade deficits mostly reflect, Mitchell says, is not economic weakness on the part of the U.S., "but the fact that we're growing so much faster than the rest of the world.”

Click on the video box near the top of the story for a complete report by FOX News' Major Garrett.