Trade Gap: Asia Crisis Hits Home

President Bush shakes hand with Secretay of State Condoleezza Rice, left, as he arrives to give his fifth State of the Union speech Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006, on Capitol Hill in Washington. At right is Chief Justice John Roberts.
The U.S. trade deficit widened to a record $16.8 billion in August under the weight of the global economic crisis, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

Imports rose 2.2 percent to $91.6 billion while exports slid for the fifth straight month, falling 0.3 percent to $74.8 billion. For the year, the deficit is running at a $165 billion annual pace.

U.S. producers have found it increasingly difficult to find buyers overseas because many markets, particularly in Asia, are in recession. Meanwhile, the strong dollar has made U.S. goods more expensive. The recent slide in the dollar against the yen was not reflected in August trade figures.

The Federal Reserve has lowered short-term interest rates twice in the past three weeks in an effort to boost domestic demand and to weaken the dollar against major currencies. Most economists expect the trade deficit to continue to widen until Asia gets back on its feet.

Wall Street's economists were expecting the gap to widen to $15 billion in August. The July deficit, which had been reported at $13.9 billion, was revised to $14.5 billion.

Much of the deterioration has come with America's trade with the Pacific Rim. The deficit with the region rose 5.6 percent to $15.7 billion and for the year is up 40 percent.

The trade gap with China hit a record $5.91 billion, while the deficit with Japan inched up to $5.2 billion.

The manufacturing and agriculture sectors have been hit hardest by the drop in global demand. Agriculture exports fell to their lowest total in four years.

The gap would have been much worse if oil prices hadn't fallen again in August to an average of $10.63 a barrel, the lowest since in 12 years.

Written By Rex Nutting