WASHINGTON – Exports of goods and services from the United States plunged a record 9.6 percent in March, pushing Washington’s trade deficit with the rest of the world to $44.4 billion, the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis said in a report released on Tuesday.
Global trade was on a downward trajectory even before a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to stop the spread of coronavirus led to an abrupt decline in economic activity.
US imports fell 6.2 percent in March to $232.2 billion, but the value of exports dropped to $187.7 billion, resulting in the largest jump in the deficit for more than a year.
Exports of automobiles, aircraft and crude oil were the most effected.
The politically sensitive trade deficit with China retreated from $19.7 billion to $15.5 billion for a cumulative 35 percent reduction in the first quarter compared with the same period in 2019.
The Q1 figures also show an overall 12-month drop in the US trade deficit from $157.7 billion to $129.7 billion.
“The declines in March exports and imports were, in part, due to the impact of COVID-19, as many businesses were operating at limited capacity or ceased operations completely, and the movement of travelers across borders was restricted,” Wednesday’s report said.
Given that the implementation of shutdowns and social distancing did not become widespread in the US until mid-March, the April figures are expected to show an even more dramatic drop in international trade.
The US has more than 1.1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and upwards of 69,000 fatalities from the disease, accounting for more than a quarter of the worldwide death toll, according to the independent tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
Though the novel coronavirus was first identified in China, the center of the crisis quickly moved westward, first to Europe – especially to Italy and Spain – and subsequently to the US.
Roughly half of the 50 states that make up the US are in the process of gradually easing some of the restrictions on movement and activity that were adopted with eye to containing COVID-19.
US gross domestic product shrank at an annualized rate of 4.8 percent in the first quarter and more than 30 million people have filed claims for unemployment compensation in the last four weeks.
The International Monetary Fund forecasts that global trade will fall 11 percent in 2020, while the World Trade Organization says that the decline could be as much as 32 percent.