November 13, 2009 / 1:35 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. trade gap widens 18.2 percent in September

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. trade deficit widened in September by an unexpectedly large 18.2 percent, the most in more than 10 years, as oil prices rose for the seventh straight month and imports from China bounded higher, a U.S. government report showed on Friday.

Shipping containers stand stacked at the Port Newark Container Terminal near New York City in Newark, New Jersey in this picture taken July 2, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The monthly trade gap grew to $36.5 billion, from a slightly revised estimate of $30.8 billion in August. Wall Street analyst had expected the shortfall to grow modestly in September to around $31.65 billion.

Both U.S. exports and imports had their best month since December 2008. But in a sign of renewed U.S. economic growth, imports grew 5.8 percent in September, the biggest monthly gain since March 1993, while exports rose 2.9 percent.

Imports of industrial supplies and materials showed the biggest gain, suggesting that U.S. manufacturers are ramping up for production.

The average price for imported oil leapt to $68.17 per barrel and imports from the Organization of Petroleum Export Countries increased to $11.9 billion in September, both the highest since November 2008.

The closely watched U.S. trade deficit with China widened 9.2 percent to $22.1 billion as imports grew 8.3 percent to $27.9 billion, both also the highest since November 2008.

The overall U.S. trade deficit, including with China, has fallen significantly this year in response to the worst economic downturn in decade.

But the gap with China narrowed just 15.9 percent in the first nine months of the year, compared with much bigger declines for Canada (79.6 percent), the European Union (42.0 percent) and OPEC (71.8 percent).

That has reinforced ideas that China’s currency remains overvalued against the dollar, giving Chinese companies an unfair trade advantage.

President Barack Obama is expected to raise concerns about China’s exchange rate regime when he meets with Chinese leaders next week in Beijing. On Friday he was in Japan for talks before heading to Singapore for this weekend’s annual summit meeting with leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

With U.S. unemployment the highest in 26 years, Obama has said he would press for a rebalancing of world economic growth where countries in Asia would open their markets to more American goods and rely less on exports to the United States and more on their own domestic demand.

Reporting by Doug Palmer, Editing by Neil Stempleman

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