December trade gap widens slightly more than expected

WASHINGTON –The trade deficit widened slightly more than expected in December, and the bilateral trade deficit with China last year soared to a record high $295.5 billion.

The monthly trade gap swelled to $48.8 billion as goods imports climbed to the highest level since July 2008, just before the financial crisis caused world trade to plunge, a report from the Commerce Department showed on Friday.

Analysts surveyed before the report had expected the December trade deficit at $48.0 billion, up from a revised estimate of $47.1 billion in November.

U.S. exports grew slightly in December, with records set for petroleum, services and advance technology goods.

For the year, the U.S. trade gap rose 11.6 percent to $558.0 billion, the highest since 2008.

Exports last year rose 14.5 percent to a record $2.1 trillion, keeping the United States on pace to meet President Barack Obama’s goal of doubling exports in five years.

Imports grew 13.8 percent to a record $2.7 trillion, with records set in several categories.

Auto imports rose to the highest since 2007 and petroleum the highest since 2008. The average price for imported oil in 2011 was a record high $99.78 per barrel

The record trade deficit last year with China is certain to reinforce concerns in Congress about Beijing’s currency and trade practice ahead of a meeting next week between Obama and the Asian giant’s expected next leader, Vice President Xi Jinping.