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May 5, 2020 10:00 AM, EDT

US Trade Plummeted in March With Record Drop in Exports

Gantry cranes stand above the APM shipping terminal in the Port of Los Angeles on May 1.Gantry cranes stand above the APM shipping terminal in the Port of Los Angeles on May 1. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

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U.S. exports of goods and services plunged in March by a record and imports declined by the most in 11 years as the coronavirus pandemic stymied trade and travel.

The overall gap in goods and services trade widened to $44.4 billion from a revised $39.8 billion in February, according to Commerce Department data released May 5. The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg had called for a widening to $44.2 billion.

Exports dropped from the prior month by a record 9.6% to $187.7 billion, while imports fell 6.2% to $232.2 billion.

U.S. exports and imports sunk in March amid pandemic.

Foreign trade was already diminishing heading into the pandemic, and now, faced with supply chain disruptions, a previously incomprehensible surge in unemployment and a dropoff in demand, the world’s largest economy has pulled back more dramatically. A look at the details offers a more nuanced picture of how COVID-19 is decimating trade.

Declines in international travel and tourism made up a large portion of the decreases in exports and imports, representing almost the entire drop in all services trade. Travel exports declined 45% from February, while imports slumped 64%. Travel and transport exports dropped $10.2 billion, while imports fell $10.6 billion.

The value of U.S. merchandise exports declined to $128.1 billion, the lowest since May 2017, reflecting decreases in oil and petroleum products, motor vehicles and civilian aircraft. Goods imports fell to $193.7 billion, also the lowest in nearly three years, on fewer inbound shipments of motor vehicles and consumer goods.

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