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Trade Gap Narrows Slightly

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed to $14 billion in September from a record in August, helped by a surge in overseas sales of aircraft and a decline in oil imports.

The seasonally adjusted September gap between exports of goods and services and imports was 11.7 percent lower than a revised record deficit of $15.9 billion in August, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

Nevertheless, the deficit for the July-September quarter, at $44.5 billion, rose to a record, from $43.6 billion in April-June. That reflects the impact the Asian economic slump is having on the U.S. economy.

So far this year, the deficit in goods and services is running at an annual rate of $166 billion, 50 percent above last year's $110 billion imbalance.

Currency crises leveled a number of Asian economies and Russia's and, until last week's $42 billion international rescue of Brazil, threatened Latin America.

That crisis has flattened U.S. export sales of manufactured goods and farm products. At the same time, countries with devalued currencies have been able to increase sales to the United States.

American factories have been trimming their payrolls since the spring and, in an effort to protect the U.S. economy from the spillover of foreign weakness, the Federal Reserve has reduced short-term interest rates three times in the past seven weeks, each time by a quarter point.

U.S. exports of goods and services rose 3.3 percent to $77.1 billion in September, but for the first nine months of the year, they're off 0.5 percent. Imports fell 0.2 percent to $91.2 billion but are up 4.8 percent for the first nine months.

Seeking to keep foreign markets open to U.S. goods, Vice President Al Gore and other high-ranking U.S. officials are attending a meeting this week of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Malaysia.

Written by Dave Skidmore

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