(CN) — The U.S. trade deficit rose for the sixth straight month in February, reaching the highest level since October 2008, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.
The government said the trade gap — the measure of the difference between what the nation sells and what it buys in foreign markets — widened to $57.6 billion in February from $56.7 billion in January.
Exports of goods and services hit a record $204.4 billion; imports set a record $262 billion, the department said.
Thursday’s report comes as the United States and China are inching closer to an all-out trade war triggered by President Donald Trump unveiled a list of Chinese imports that he aims to target as part of a crackdown on what he deems as unfair trade practices.
China responded by announcing additional tariffs on more than 100 U.S. products, including a 25 percent levy on such products as soybeans, cars and whiskey.
China’s Ministry of Commerce has not set an effective start date for the new charges, but did say they are intended to apply to up to $50 billion of U.S. products annually.
In February, prior to the eruption of rhetoric, the trade deficit in goods with China narrowed to $29.3 billion, down from $36 billion in January.
The United States ran a $77 billion deficit in the trade of goods in February, the highest level since July 2008. That was partially offset by a $19.4 billion surplus in services such as education and banking, lowest since December 2012.
Exports of cars and auto parts posted big increases in February as did imports of pharmaceuticals, crude oil and civilian aircraft.
President Trump has repeatedly said trade deficits as a sign of economic weakness and as the result of bad trade agreements and unfair practices by America’s trading partners.
But most economists hold that the rising trade deficit is a symptom of a strong U.S. economy and high consumer confidence. That confidence is leading to more spending on imported products, the thinking goes.