United States trade deficit falls in September to US$52.5b

UNCTAD economist Alessandro Nicita said Chinese exporters were increasingly lowering the prices of goods subjected to tariffs. AFP

UNCTAD economist Alessandro Nicita said Chinese exporters were increasingly lowering the prices of goods subjected to tariffs. AFP

The U.S. trade deficit fell in September to the lowest level in five months as imports dropped more sharply than exports and America ran a rare surplus in petroleum.

By comparison, the largest apparel export of China to the US that was not subject to additional tariffs - jerseys, pullovers, cardigans, waistcoats and similar articles, knitted or crocheted - was valued at $1.4 billion for the first half of 2019, identical to the same period in 2018, Nicita said. The deficit for all of 2018 totaled $627.7 billion.

United States exports fell 0.9 percent in September to $206 billion as global sales of soy beans, passenger cars and trucks together fell $2.5 billion.

The two countries are now trying to complete a phase one trade deal that would deal with some of the administration's complaints that China is stealing USA technology and pursuing other unfair trade practices.

Without an agreement, another batch of levies may hit $160 billion in Chinese goods - including laptops and mobile phones - that's still set to take effect in December.

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As we highlighted in our recent piece on who is winning the US-China trade war, while China is obviously feeling some pain, the deterioration in the trade balance of what is likely to be around US$60bn this year equates to around 0.5 percentage points of Chinese GDP.

He however warned that "even countries that are gaining in terms of exports may not be gaining in net terms".

That's narrowed the year-to-date goods deficit with China to $266.4 billion from $306.7 billion. The job openings rate fell to 4.4 percent from 4.6 percent in August. For the first nine months of this year, the USA deficit is running 5.4% below the same period a year ago.

The ongoing trade war between the United States and China is harming both economies, the UN said Tuesday, with a sharp drop in exports and higher prices for consumers.

For the first time since 1978, the USA recorded a surplus in the petroleum trade, at US$252 million in September, government data showed on Tuesday.

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While it does not consider the impact of Chinese tariffs on USA imports, the study indicates that qualitative results are most likely to be analogous: higher prices for Chinese consumers, losses for US exporters and trade gains for other countries.

In July 2018, tariffs of 25% came into force on goods valued at $34 billion, followed by new import duties of $16 billion in August.

This was slightly offset by higher exports of aircraft and aircraft engines.

Analysts will use Tuesday's figures to estimate potential revisions to third-quarter gross domestic product, which expanded at a 1.9% annualized pace, faster than expected. The first revision is due at the end of November.

USA imports from China subject to tariffs fell to $95 billion between January and June from $130 billion during the same period of 2018, the study released by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) showed.

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