ECONOMY

US trade deficit last year hit highest level since 2012

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed slightly in December, but the improvement wasn't enough to keep the deficit for the entire year from rising to the highest level since 2012. That should provide fuel for President Donald Trump's contention that America needs a tougher approach to trade.

The Commerce Department says the deficit in December fell 3.2 percent to $44.2 billion. A gain in exports of commercial aircraft, heavy machinery and autos offset a rise in imports. For the whole year, the deficit rose 0.4 percent to $502.3 billion, the highest annual imbalance since 2012.

Trump has pledged to impose penalty tariffs on countries such as China and Mexico to force them to drop what he contends are unfair trade practices that have cost millions of American jobs.