WASHINGTON — The overall U.S. trade deficit rose 12.2 percent last year, nearing $1 trillion as Americans continued to purchase record volumes of foreign products, according to data released Tuesday by the Commerce Department.
The goods and services deficit reached $948.1 billion, up $103 billion from the previous year.
Exports of goods and services rose 17.7 percent to $3 trillion, outpacing the growth of imports, which rose 16.3 percent to $4 trillion. Exports were buoyed last year by strong growth in U.S. energy shipments abroad after Europe cut many economic ties with Russia, as well as a recovery in the U.S. travel sector following the pandemic.
Trade between the United States and China also continued to grow, despite rising tensions between two of the world’s biggest economies that were further strained last week by the discovery of a Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States.
The United States has been bringing in a smaller share of its imported goods from China in recent years, in part because of tariffs and other restrictions on trade. But overall U.S. trade with China reached a record last year. The U.S. trade deficit with China also grew to $382.9 billion, though it did not surpass previous records.
In December, U.S. exports fell slightly from the previous month to $250.2 billion, reflecting a slowing global economy. Imports edged up to $317.6 billion.
Economists and politicians have varying views about how much the trade deficit matters for the health of the U.S. economy. Some economists point out that the trade deficit tends to grow when the U.S. economy does, and Americans are more able to buy the goods and services they want from abroad. But many also worry that sustained trade deficits can result in lower employment and economic growth in the United States.
Regardless, when the Commerce Department calculates the gross domestic product, its measure of economic growth, it adds exports to the national figures for government and private investment and spending, and subtracts imports.
In the fourth quarter of last year, weak exports of goods weighed on the gross domestic product, even though imports also decreased.