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Containers are stacked on a ship at the Port in Bayonne, New Jersey in the harbor of New York, January 29, 2016.

BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

The U.S. trade deficit rose in April to the highest level since January. The politically sensitive trade gap with China registered a sharp increase.

The Commerce Department said Friday that the U.S. trade gap in goods and services climbed 5.2 per cent to $47.6-billion in April from March. Exports dropped 0.3 per cent to $191-billion, pulled down by a drop in automotive exports. Imports rose 0.8 per cent to $238.6-billion as Americans bought more foreign-made cellphones and other consumer goods.

A widening trade deficit is a drag on economic growth. Donald Trump made the trade gap – the difference between exports and imports – a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. His administration has vowed to reduce the deficit, blaming it on abusive practices by America's trading partners.

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The deficit in goods with China rose by 12.4 per cent to $27.6-billion in April.

So far this year, the trade deficit is up 13.4 per cent from a year earlier to $186.6-billion. Exports are up 6.1 per cent to $765.6-billion this year, but imports are up more – 7.5 per cent to $952.2-billion. So far in 2017, the United States is running a $268.7-billion deficit in goods and an $82.1-billion surplus in services such as banking and tourism.

Trump recently has singled out Germany for criticism, saying it is unfairly benefiting from a weak euro. When a country's currency is weak, its products enjoy a price advantage in foreign markets. The trade deficit with Germany rose 4.3 per cent in April to $5.5-billion.

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