Trade Gap Widens to $57B in April

The U.S. trade deficit (search) widened less than expected in April to $57 billion, as both exports and imports set records, the Commerce Department (search) said on Friday.

The monthly trade gap expanded 6.3 percent from March, but was below the median forecast of $58 billion from a group of 35 economists surveyed before the report.

Surging oil prices helped push overall imports up 4.1 percent from March to a record $163.4 billion, the largest monthly increase since November 2002. Imports from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (search) were a record $9.8 billion. The average price for imported oil in April was a record $44.76 per barrel.

U.S. exports rose 3.0 percent to a record $106.4 billion, aided by an increase in exports of civilian aircraft and other capital goods. Shipments to China and South and Central America also set records at $3.4 billion and $6.1 billion, respectively.

The politically sensitive trade gap with China widened 14.0 percent in April to $14.7 billion, despite the record U.S. exports to that country.

Imports of clothing and textiles from China jumped 11.1 percent in April, after falling more than 20 percent in March. The increase helped boost overall imports from China to $18.1 billion, up 11.8 percent from the previous month. China's shipments of clothing and other textile products totaled $7.42 billion for the first four months of 2005, up 51.7 percent from the same period last year. The surge — which follows the end of a global quota system on Jan. 1 — has prompted the Bush administration to impose emergency import curbs on some Chinese clothing products.

U.S. imports of clothing and textiles from around the world have increased only 10.2 percent in the first four months of 2005, as the increase from China has been offset by a drop off in shipment from other suppliers.