WASHINGTON — The U.S. trade deficit improved sharply in the first three months of the year, narrowing to $27.6 billion for the smallest quarterly imbalance in four years, the government said today.
The Commerce Department said the imbalance between imports and U.S. exports fell by 13.7% from a fourth-quarter deficit of $32.02 billion.
The improvement stemmed from a 5.7% jump in exports, which pushed sales of American goods abroad to a record of $88.50 billion. Imports also hit a record of $116.13 billion, but the 3.4% increase was smaller than the rate of export expansion.
The big jump in exports reflected increases in sales of industrial products, consumer goods and farm products. The 11% advance in farm exports put American agricultural sales at $10.9 billion, the highest level in almost eight years.
The rise in imports came entirely from an increase in petroleum imports, which shot up 18% to $10.8 billion, with the advance coming from the higher cost of oil. Non-petroleum imports declined by $1.2 billion to $105.3 billion, reflecting a drop in demand for consumer goods and autos.
The improved trade performance put the quarterly deficit at the lowest level since a $25.7-billion imbalance in the first quarter of 1985.