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Shipping containers sit on the dock at the Port of Oakland on Sept. 18, 2020.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The U.S. trade deficit fell in September after hitting a 14-year high the previous month as exports outpaced imports.

The gap between what the U.S. sells and what it buys abroad fell to $63.9 billion in September, a decline of 4.7 per cent, from a $67 billion deficit in August, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. September exports rose 2.6 per cent to $176.4 billion, pushed higher by the food and beverage category, where shipments worth $12.9 billion were the highest since July of 2012. Soybean exports rose 63 per cent in September.

Imports ticked up 0.5 per cent to $240.2 billion, also helped by $13.5 billion in the food and beverage category, which were the highest on record.

Year to date, the goods and services deficit has jumped $38.5 billion, or 8.6 per cent, to $485.6 billion. The total deficit for goods and services for the same period in 2019 was $447.1 billion. Total exports are down 17.4 per cent this year from 2019, while imports have declined by 12.4 per cent as the coronavirus pandemic has sabotaged global commerce this year and disrupted global supply chains everywhere.

The politically sensitive deficit in the trade of goods with China fell about 8 per cent in September to $24.3 billion from $26.4 billion in August. Exports to China in September of $11.5 billion were the highest since March of 2018.

When Donald Trump campaigned for president in 2016 he pledged to sharply lower the country’s large trade deficits, especially with China, which for years has been the country with the largest trade surplus with the United States.

But despite Trump’s confrontational approach on trade with China and a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, America’s trade deficits have remained stubbornly high, although the deficit with Mexico fell by $1.8 billion to $10.7 billion in September.

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