SILVER SPRING, Md.—The level of imported goods to the U.S. in January reached unprecedented levels and pushed the trade deficit 1.9 percent higher as the coronavirus pandemic continues to distort global commerce.
The gap between the goods and services the United States sold and what it bought abroad rose to $68.2 billion from $67 billion in December, the Commerce Department reported on March 5. Exports rose 1 percent to $191.9 billion, while imports increased 1.2 percent to $260.2 billion.
Imports of goods, not including services, increased $3.4 billion to a record $221.1 billion in January, led by pharmaceuticals, which rose $5 billion, or 39 percent, to $17.4 billion. Imports of services fell about 1 percent.
The figure exceeded the previous record for imported goods of $218.9 billion set in October 2018.
U.S. exports of goods rose $2.1 billion to $135.7 billion in January, while exports of services, like transport and travel, declined $300 million to $56.3 billion.
The politically sensitive trade gap with China fell 3.2 percent to $27.2 billion. The trade deficit with Mexico rose $1.6 billion to $11.9 billion in January.
The coronavirus has upended trade in services such as education and travel, sections of the economy in which the United States runs persistent surpluses. Measured in dollars, monthly exports of U.S. services have declined by nearly one-fourth since the virus outbreak about a year ago.
Year-over-year, the goods and services deficit climbed to $23.8 billion, or 53.7 percent, from January 2020.
Last month, Commerce reported that in 2020, U.S. trade deficit rose 18.1 percent to $682 billion, the highest since 2008, as the coronavirus threw global commerce into disarray and stymied then-President Donald Trump’s attempts to rebalance America’s trade with the rest of the world, particularly China.
President Joe Biden’s pick for his administration’s top trade negotiator, Katherine Tai, is waiting to be confirmed by the full Senate. Fluent in Mandarin, Tai spent several years as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s head of China enforcement.
By Matt Ott