The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - America's trade deficit hit a record monthly high in January, the start of an election year in which Democrats hope to use the swollen trade gap and the loss of U.S. jobs as campaign issues against President Bush.
The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that the trade imbalance mushroomed to $43.1 billion in the first month of 2004, a 0.9 percent increase from the previous month.
For all of 2003, the trade deficit posted an annual all-time high of $489.9 billion, according to revised figures.
The latest snapshot of trade activity comes as tensions have grown over global trade and the migration of jobs in the United States to other countries.
The Bush administration thinks that the best way to handle the trade deficits is to get other countries to remove trade barriers and open their markets to U.S. businesses.
But Democrats and other critics point to the deficits as evidence that the president's free-trade policies aren't working and are a factor in the loss of U.S. jobs.
The trade deficit in January grew as the value of imported goods and services eclipsed the value of U.S. exports.
Imports of goods and services came to $132 billion in January, the second-highest level on record. Still, that was a 0.5 percent dip from the record level of imports seen in December.
The economic rebound in the United States has fed demand for foreign-made goods.
Exports, meanwhile, totaled $89 billion in January, a 1.2 percent decrease from December. That largely reflected weaker demand for U.S. food products. Exports of meat and poultry in January plunged by 40 percent to $379 million, the lowest level since November 1993, as the first case of mad cow disease in the United States stalled beef exports to many countries.
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