The deficit jumped nearly 19% in December, pushing the trade imbalance for all of 2018 to widen to a decade-long high of $621bn.
The commerce department said the gap between what the US sells and what it buys from other countries rose to $59.8bn in December from $50.3bn in November.
Donald Trump imposed tariffs last year on foreign steel, aluminum and Chinese products in the belief that these import taxes would ultimately reduce the trade imbalance.
But the trade gap on goods surged to record highs last year with China ($419.2bn), Mexico ($81.5bn) and the European Union ($169.3bn).
December’s trade imbalance worsened because US imports rose 2.1%, while exports to other countries fell 1.9%.
The president has previously called the trade gap “unsustainable”. Trump is trying to reach a new trade deal with China and hopes to strike an agreement with President Xi Jinping in the coming weeks, but the stakes could not be higher. Trump asked China to abolish tariffs on US agricultural products earlier this month. He said trade talks were “moving along nicely”.
The US trade deficit in 2018 widened to its highest level since 2008, at $621bn. The imbalance with China widened to a record gap. And the US registered the largest trade deficit in goods in its history, growing by 10% to more than $891bn last year.
Early comments by economists and other observers on social media included remarks such as this one by commenter Catherine Rampell, who tweeted: “Trump is obsessed with trade deficits, (incorrectly) believing them a measure of who’s winning and who’s losing. Well, by his own measure, we must be ‘losing’ more: U.S. just posted its biggest merchandise trade deficit ever, $891.2 billion.”
She added that it was unusual for deficits to be so high when unemployment in the US is so low.