WASHINGTON: The US trade deficit fell 4.7 per cent to US$52.5 billion in September as the country recorded its first petroleum surplus, but overall imports and exports otherwise fell under the weight of rising global tariffs and a slowing world economy.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the trade gap would fall slightly to US$52.5 billion in September.
The United States imported fewer cars but sold fewer overseas in September. It also imported fewer cellphones, toys and games, but sold less food, feed and beverages abroad.
The August trade deficit was revised to a slightly wider US$55.04 billion. While the petroleum surplus of US$252 million was the first since 1978, it reflected both a drop in exports of US oil and a larger decline in imports of foreign oil, a possible outgrowth of the recent weakness in manufacturing.
The goods trade gap with China narrowed by US$100 million to US$31.6 billion, with exports to the country falling US$800 million in September and imports from China falling US$1.0 billion.
The United States and China have been embroiled in a 16-month trade war, but the two parties have edged towards an initial agreement.
Washington last month announced tariffs on aircraft, other industrial products and agricultural products from the European Union as part of a World Trade Organisation penalty award in a long-running aircraft subsidy case.
Trade experts expect the EU will impose tariffs on US goods next year over subsidies for Boeing.
In September, overall US exports fell 0.9 per cent to US$206 billion, including a US$1 billion drop in exports of soybeans, one of the political bargaining chips China has used to pressure the US side in trade discussions. Exports of autos fell US$1 billion.
Exports of capital goods ticked up by US$800 million, including a US$700 million rise in exports of civilian aircraft.
There was an overall decline in goods imports, including a US$800 million drop in cell phones and a US$600 million decline in toys, games and sporting equipment. Imports of capital goods fell US$1.1 billion, including a US$600 million drop in imports of semiconductors.
Imports of automobiles fell US$1.1 billion.
When adjusted for inflation, the goods trade deficit fell US$3.1 billion to US$82.6 billion in September.