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US trade deficit hits 8-month low in Feb on autos, aircraft

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The US trade deficit in February fell to its lowest level in eight months, thanks in part to rising aircraft and auto exports, according to government data released Wednesday.

[WASHINGTON] The US trade deficit in February fell to its lowest level in eight months, thanks in part to rising aircraft and auto exports, according to government data released Wednesday.

The trade deficit - which fell for the second month in a row after hitting a 10-year high in December - also was helped by record exports of US services, according to the Commerce Department.

At US$70 billion for the month, US services exports were the highest on record, helped a US$200 million increase in exported transport services.

Meanwhile, crude oil imports fell to their lowest volume in nearly 27 years, according to the report.

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The narrowing trade gap could support GDP growth in the first quarter and offers relief from what had been a frustrating data point for President Donald Trump since his aggressive tariff strategy was aimed at reducing the deficit.

Mr Trump views the trade deficit as a job killer and he launched a multi-front trade offensive with all major US trading partners.

The trade gap in the latest month fell 3.4 per cent to US$49.4 billion, seasonally adjusted, well below the US$54 billion that economists had been expecting.

The result, which is subject to revision, put the first two months of the year 7.6 per cent below the same period of 2018.

In a particularly positive point for Mr Trump, the goods deficit with China fell US$3.1 billion to US$30.1 billion compared to January, helped in part by a recovery for the month in soybean exports.

Total exports of the crop rose US$190 million to US$1.4 billion.

Meanwhile, the deficit in goods alone with Japan, which just opened talks on a new trade agreement with the United States, jumped US$1.3 billion to US$6.7 billion due to a slump in US exports to the Asian economy.

The goods deficit with the EU - which is planning to open trade talks with Washington - fell 5.3 per cent to US$12.4 billion.

Total exports of US-made goods rose US$2.1 billion to nearly US$140 billion for the month, with the volatile civilian aircraft exports up US$2.2 billion and auto exports up US$600 million.

The February numbers, however, will not reflect difficulties suffered by Boeing, which last month suspended deliveries of its top-selling 737 MAX aircraft following fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia in recent months.

US imports were largely stable for the month, with a decrease in imports of industrial supplies partly offsetting a US$2.1 billion gain in imports of mobile phones and other household consumer goods.

AFP