The US trade deficit jumped to $621 billion last year, in a significant blow to US president Donald Trump, who made addressing the massive imbalance a priority issue during his election campaign .
The trade deficit – the difference between imports and exports – reached a 10-year high, new figures from the US Census Bureau show. They reveal that the United States continued to import billions more worth of goods than it exported as consumer demand grew across the country, reflecting a strong US economy. Trade with China accounted for almost half of the overall deficit.
Figures for December alone show that the trade deficit that month widened by 18.8 per cent as imports rose by 2.1 per cent and exports fell by 1.9 per cent.
Mr Trump has embarked on an aggressive trade strategy since assuming office in an effort at addressing the trade gap. He has threatened to raise tariffs on Chinese imports from 10 per cent to 25 per cent if adequate concessions are not made by Beijing, while he is also locked in a nascent trade war with Europe, threatening import tariffs on European cars.
Democrat Steny H Hoyer, the House majority leader, said Mr Trump’s economic policies had produced “the largest trade deficit in American history”.
“It is time for President Trump to acknowledge that his scattershot approach to trade policy is failing and explain how he intends to change course and reverse these record deficits,” he said.
The new figures emerged amid reports that Mr Trump's longtime insurance broker has been subpoenaed by regulators in New York. Several media outlets reported that New York's Department of Financial Services issued a subpoena to insurance broker Aon Plc, which has provided insurance brokerage services to Mr Trump's businesses for years.
The development follows allegations last week by Mr Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, during testimony to the House oversight committee, that his former boss inflated asset values for insurance purposes. The New York regulator does not have prosecution powers but could refer findings to federal prosecutors.
The move to target Aon potentially opens a new front in the various investigations engulfing Mr Trump. On Monday, the House judiciary committee sent letters to 81 individuals and entities requesting information on Mr Trump's financial affairs, possible links with Russia and potential conflict of interest issues. The White House dismissed the move as a "fishing expedition" and a "disgraceful and abusive investigation".
How did the White House react?
"Democrats are harassing the president to distract from their radical agenda of making America a socialist country, killing babies after they're born, and pushing a 'green new deal' that would destroy jobs and bankrupt America," said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. "The American people deserve a Congress that works with the president to address serious issues like immigration, healthcare, and infrastructure."
In addition to the House judiciary committee, the ways and means committee is said to be nearing the conclusion of its preparations for demanding access to Mr Trump’s tax records, a request that is likely to be vigorously resisted by White House counsel.
As legal pressure increases on Mr Trump, a new Monmouth university poll on Wednesday showed that support for impeaching the president has increased from 36 per cent to 42 per cent since November. But Mr Trump’s overall support has remained steady at 44 per cent.
Senior Democrats have downplayed talk of impeachment. Speaking on Wednesday, congressman Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California and member of the House oversight committee, said he did not support impeachment at this stage.
“The American public still doesn’t have all the facts and all the evidence,” he said. “I would prefer that we build a case and have the evidence.”