Canadian exports hit record high in March as trade deficit narrows

Truck carrying shipping containers travels at a port in Qingdao Shandong province China

Imports of services decreased less than $0.1 billion to $43.0 billion in March.

Rising oil import prices, which hit a near two-year record, helped fuel the trade deficit, which has become a central focus of the Trump administration's nationalist economic agenda.

Imports of goods and services slipped 0.7 percent to $234.7 billion.

However, automobile imports increased by $1.0bn.

President Donald Trump told Reuters that he was "psyched" to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, but changed his mind after their leaders asked for it to be renegotiated instead. The trade gap with Mexico has surged almost 14% this year compared to the first quarter of 2016, hitting the highest level since November 2007. He has called NAFTA a "disaster".

Imports fell in March because of reduced spending on civilian aircraft, computers, oil and cars.

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"This is a modest pleasant surprise", Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said in a client note.

The shortfall followed a revised deficit of $1.1 billion for February compared with an initial reading of a deficit of $972 million for the month.

The latest figures might provide some more ammunition for Trump administration officials as they seek to reduce the trade gap and wring more favorable terms from trading partners.

Exports to the European Union and South Korea hit all-time monthly records at $25.7 billion and $4.4 billion respectively while exports to Germany were the highest in almost nine years at $5 billion. "Consequently, Canada's annual merchandise trade deficit with the world widened from $23.0 billion in 2015 to a record $26.0 billion in 2016". Production cuts agreed to previous year by petroleum producing countries helped drive up the average import price to $49.33, the highest since August 2015.

Consumer goods exports also rose 6.8 percent, with increased shipments of yellow peas and red lentils to India, and gold to China.

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