Trade deficit eases slightly in March; Korea gap widens

Posted May 04, 2017

Energy exports were up seven per cent, led by increased natural gas sales to the United States attributable to "unusually low temperatures in the northeastern U.S. in March", and more coal shipments to Japan, China and South Korea, the agency said.

With imports and exports both falling, the Commerce Department released a report on Thursday showing that the US trade deficit was little changed in the month of March. Statscan revised February's deficit to $1.08 billion from an initial $972 million.

The trade gap slipped 0.1 per cent in March to US$43.7 billion, seasonally-adjusted.

Imports from the United States - Canada's largest trading partner, by far - were up two percent, while exports to the U.S. edged down a fraction of a percentage point. "Consequently, Canada's annual merchandise trade deficit with the world widened from $23.0 billion in 2015 to a record $26.0 billion in 2016".

The jump in energy exports was driven largely by higher natural gas and coal exports.

The data help explain how trade ended up making a slight contribution to economic growth last quarter, while highlighting the sometimes under-appreciated role of services in the figures.

Consumer goods exports also gained ground, climbing 6.8 per cent to $6.1 billion.

Total exports fell 0.9 per cent for the month to US$191 billion, the biggest drop since October. The trade gap with Mexico has surged almost 14% this year compared to the first quarter of 2016, hitting the highest level since November 2007.

President Donald Trump is poised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which links Canada, Mexico and the United States, and has threatened to pull out unless the USA gets a favourable deal.

The decline in exports was led by falling energy products: crude oil and crude bitumen exports fell 14.2 percent to $48.2 billion while annual volumes of both increased 2.7 percent.