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(Adds details of release, background)
OTTAWA, May 9 (Reuters) - Canada's trade deficit in March shrank slightly to C$3.21 billion ($2.38 billion) as higher energy shipments helped exports increase at a slightly faster rate than imports, Statistics Canada said on Thursday.
The deficit - the 12th largest on record - was greater than the C$2.45 billion shortfall that analysts in a Reuters poll had predicted. Statscan revised February's deficit sharply upward to C$3.42 billion from an initial C$2.90 billion.
Exports grew by 3.2 percent with shipments of energy products posting a 7.7 percent gain on the back of increased volumes. Exports of passenger cars and light trucks rebounded by 8.4 percent after dropping in February on lower auto output.
Imports increased by 2.5 percent to a record C$52.26 billion as imports of consumer goods such as clothing, footwear and accessories rose by 6.7 percent. Imports of airliners plunged by 50.7 percent on a slowdown in deliveries of U.S. aircraft.
Canada sent 74.2 percent of all its goods exports to the United States in March. Exports to the United States rose by 1.3 percent while imports shrank by 0.4 percent and as a result, the bilateral trade surplus grew to C$3.62 billion from C$2.99 billion in February.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren Editing by Nick Zieminski)