US trade deficit widens in March on record export drop
FILE PHOTO: Shipping containers are seen at a port in Shanghai, China July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

US exports plunged 9.6 percent in March -- the biggest monthly decline on record -- increasing the trade deficit to $44.4 billion as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

Imports also fell, but only by 6.2 percent, as transportation and shipping began to close down worldwide, causing the trade gap to jump nearly 12 percent from $39.9 billion in February.

"The declines in March exports and imports were, in part, due to the impact of COVID-19, as many businesses were operating at limited capacity or ceased operations completely, and the movement of travelers across borders was restricted," the report said.

While widespread business shutdowns in the United States did not take hold until later in the month, transportation disruptions began earlier overseas.

Exports fell by $20 billion to $187.7 billion, while imports fell to $232 billion, according to the report.

The declines were seen across all categories, including a $1 billion drop in crude oil exports, while consumer goods imports like cellphones plunged $4 billion, and auto imports dropped $2.7 billion.

Falling imports meant the deficit with China on goods alone fell $4.2 billion in the month to $15.5 billion, the Commerce Department said.

For the first three months of the year, the trade gap fell 17.8 percent from the same period of 2019 to $129.7 billion.