US trade deficit edges up to $50 billion in March

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. trade deficit increased slightly in March even though the deficit with China fell to the lowest point in five years.

The deficit in goods and services edged up 1.5% to $50 billion in March, after falling 3.6%in February, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The deficit is the difference between what America sells to the rest of the world and what it imports.

Exports rose 1% to $212 billion in March while imports rose a slightly faster 1.1% to $262 billion.

The deficit in goods with China dropped 16.2% to $20.7 billion, the lowest level since March 2014.

The United States and China have been locked in a trade war for the past year with a new round of U.S. tariffs scheduled to go into effect Friday. Negotiators from both countries are scheduled to meet Thursday and Friday in Washington for an 11th round of talks aimed at reaching an agreement to ease economic tensions between the world's two biggest economies.

The Trump administration for weeks had been indicating that the talks were making progress but then on Sunday President Donald Trump expressed frustration with what the U.S. side saw as backsliding by Chinese negotiators. Trump has said tariffs will be raised on $200 billion in Chinese products from 10% to 25% starting Friday.

The new trade report showed that the deficit with China for the first three months of this year totals $80 billion, still the largest wit5h any country, but down 12.2% from the same period a year ago.

The deficit with Mexico jumped to $9.5 billion in March, the highest on record, while the deficit with Canada was unchanged at $1.4 billion.

The trade fight with China involves U.S. allegations that China is stealing U.S. technology and forcing firms to turn over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market. In response to the punitive tariffs the Trump administration began imposing last year, China has retaliated by targeting $110 billion worth of American products including higher Chinese tariffs on American soybeans.

Trump campaigned on a pledge to reduce America's longstanding trade deficit with the rest of the world, which he sees as a sign of economic weakness and a se3ries of bad trade deals from past administrations.

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