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U.S. Trade Gap Widens In December, Sets Record For 2006

The U.S. trade deficit widened more than expected in December and grew 6.5% during all of 2006 to a record $763.6 billion, a U.S. Commerce Department report showed.

The monthly trade gap totaled $61.2 billion, up 5.3% from November as oil prices rebounded and Americans imported record amounts of consumer goods and autos and auto parts.

The December shortfall exceeded the median forecast of $59.5 billion made by Wall Street analysts surveyed before the report. It also marked the tenth time in 2006 that the monthly
deficit exceeded $60 billion.

U.S. exports of goods and services, which have benefited recently from stronger foreign economic growth and a decline in the value of the dollar, totaled a record $125.5 billion in
December.

The same factors helped propel total exports in 2006 to a record $1.44 trillion, up 12.8% from the prior year.

Exports grew faster than imports, which rose 10.5% in 2006 to $2.20 trillion.

Despite setting a new record, the growth in the trade deficit slowed in 2006 from the blistering 17.3% pace in 2005.

With average prices for imported oil a record $58.00 per barrel in 2006, the United States' imports of petroleum for the year rose to a record $302.5 billion. However, the deficit in
non-oil goods also was a record at $547.2 billion.

The politically sensitive trade gap with China expanded 15.4% to a record $232.5 billion in 2006, despite record U.S. exports to that country of $55.2 billion.

Imports from China surged 18.2% to a record $287.8 billion, ensuring that concerns about China's exchange rate and other government policies, which U.S. lawmakers and manufacturers believe unfairly aid Chinese companies, will remain a hot political topic in 2007.

The United States also ran record trade deficits with Japan and Mexico in 2006.