The U.S. trade deficit, which President Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to reduce or eliminate, rose 5 percent in January to hit $56.6 billion, its highest level since October 2008, when George W. Bush was president, Commerce Department data released Wednesday showed.
The gap, which measures the difference between imports and exports, was higher than during any month of former President Barack Obama's administration. Trump claims the trade deficit is a result of bad trade deals, but most economists believe it mainly reflects an economy's strength — and that it tends to rise when times are good.
For example, the U.S. trade gap plummeted from $59.5 billion in October 2008 to $44.1 billion the following month as the early days of the Great Recession took hold. The deficit continued declining and bottomed out at $26.6 billion in June 2009, before it gradually started rising again as the economy improved.
The latest monthly report comes as Trump is promising to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from around the world to protect national security. Many countries believe the coming tariffs, which the administration expects to finalize this week or next, are a disguised effort to impose protectionist duties, and key U.S. allies like the EU and Canada are threatening to retaliate.
U.S. exports declined 1.3 percent in January, to $200.9 billion, while imports were unchanged from the prior month, at $257.5 billion. The goods trade deficit, which excludes services, hit $75.3 billion, the highest since July 2008.
The trade deficit with China rose to $36 billion, its highest mark since September 2015, while the trade deficit with Canada climbed to $3.6 billion, its highest level since December 2014.