February 8, 2022 10:33 AM, EST

US Trade Gap Swells to Record in 2021 on Surge in Imports

MiamiCargo containers are stacked near cranes at Port Miami. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

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The U.S. trade deficit grew in 2021 to the largest on record, reflecting a surge in the value of consumer-goods imports as the pandemic discouraged spending on services and drove more outlays for merchandise.

The annual shortfall in goods and services increased for a second straight year, widening 26.9% to $859.1 billion, Commerce Department data showed Feb. 8. The December gap grew to $80.7 billion from the prior month. That compares with the median estimate of $83 billion in a Bloomberg survey of economists. The figures aren’t adjusted for prices.

Annual imports climbed 20.5% to $3.39 trillion from 2020, while exports rose 18.5% to $2.53 trillion.

The data bears the effects of the second year of the pandemic in the world’s largest economy — elevated savings spurred by government stimulus and a stronger dollar saw homebound Americans purchase more goods and invest in their homes. The result sparked a surge in inbound shipments that strained ports and logistics, and depleted inventories.

In the fourth quarter, businesses pushed to replenish lean stocks, supporting an acceleration in the pace of economic growth.

Many of the imports came from China, despite the billions of dollars of tariffs the U.S. imposed on shipments ranging from footwear and clothing to electronics and bicycles and even pet food. The annual goods-trade deficit with China grew $45 billion to $355.3 billion, the data showed. Meanwhile, Beijing has fallen short on its purchase commitments under a trade agreement reached during the Trump administration in early 2020.

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