Trump's favourite scorecard for the US-China trade war improved in March

  • The gap between American products shipped abroad and goods the US imported rose slightly in March.
  • The politically-sensitive deficit with China decreased to a five-year low as shipments picked up and imports slowed.
  • The results came ahead of crucial trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing set to take place on Thursday and Friday.
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The gap between American products shipped abroad and goods the US imported rose slightly in March, while the deficit with China narrowed to its lowest level in five years.

The Commerce Department said on Thursday the goods and services trade deficit rose $US2.1 billion, or about 1.5%, to a seasonally adjusted $US50 billion. The amount the US shipped abroad climbed by 1% to $US212 billion, and imports grew 1.1% to $US262 billion.

The politically-sensitive deficit with China decreased to its lowest point since 2014 in March, falling 16.2% to $US28.3 billion. The results came ahead of crucial trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing set to take place on Thursday and Friday.

President Donald Trump views the trade balance as a scorecard of sorts in his economic wars. But the figure is driven by many factors including foreign-exchange rates, the strength of an economy, and the amount a country borrows from abroad.

Exports to China increased by $US1.4 billion to $US10.5 billion in March, while the amount of products the US imported from there fell $US0.5 billion to $US38.8 billion.

Civilian aircraft shipments, which led a jump in overall exports in January, fell by $US0.7 billion. Economists expect these shipments could fall further after Boeing suspended deliveries of the 737 MAX aircraft in the wake of two deadly crashes.

American soybean exports continued to climb in March after falling sharply last year when China retaliated against the Trump administration with a 25% tariff on the legume. Soybean shipments to China increased to $US0.5 billion.

Trade negotiations appear to be under pressure as Trump doubles down on vows to follow through with previously postponed escalations with China.

The Trump administration on Monday said it would increase the tariff rate on $US200 billion worth of Chinese imports, a punitive measure taken after the US accused China of reneging on past commitments in a draft deal. Beijing was swift to announce it would take countermeasures.

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