The March expansion in the U.S. trade gap was the largest in nearly two decades, suggesting that international commerce was a significant drag on economic growth to start the year.
The trade deficit widened by 43.1% to a seasonally adjusted $51.37 billion in March, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That was the largest monthly expansion in the trade gap since December 1996 and the largest deficit reading since October 2008.
Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a trade deficit of $42.5 billion in March.
The expanding trade gap was driven by the largest increase in imports on record. That indicates that foreign goods flowed steadily into the U.S. in March after months of being stalled by a labor dispute at West Coast ports. Imports rose 7.7% to $239.21 billion in March.
Meanwhile, overseas demand for U.S. goods and services remained modest. Exports increased 0.9% from February to $187.84 billion.
The February trade deficit was revised to $35.89 billion from an initially reported $35.44 billion. That month’s reading was the narrowest since October 2009.
Read more: The Wall Street Journal