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"Looking ahead, we expect the trade deficit to widen further in 2018", said Gregory Daco, chief usa economist at Oxford Economics.

It would suggest the administration will struggle to bring down the deficit, especially as some $1.5tn in tax cuts work their way through the system, a factor that could be expected to boost domestic demand further.

The fiscal stimulus comes when the economy is nearly at full employment, which means the resulting increase in demand will likely be satisfied with imports.

Despite Mr. Trump's frequent promises to reduce the trade deficit, many economists believe that his trade policies will be largely powerless to reverse the trend.

For the month of December alone, the trade deficit in goods and services rose 5.35% to 53.1 billion, a rise above analysts' expectations of 52.3 billion. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the trade gap widening to $US52.0 billion in December.

RDQ Economics said in a client note the trade gap data is a sign of strong demand, which could favor an increase interest rates by the Federal Reserve - the very prospect that set Wall Street's nerves on edge. For all of 2017, the goods-and-services gap grew 12 percent to $566 billion, the biggest since 2008. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose 2.6 percent in the third quarter, however, the higher trade deficit shaved off 1.1 points.

In 2017, "the goods deficit with China hit a record $375.2 billion" and the deficit with Mexico swelled to $71.1 billion, up from $55.6 in 2016.

Trump has repeatedly threatened to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement unless the 1994 pact linking Canada, Mexico and the U.S. can be made more favourable to Washington.

After rolling out trade actions on washing machines and solar panels that were nominally aimed at China, the administration is considering sweeping action to protect American intellectual property from Chinese incursions.

"The terms of trade are not completely unfair", said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in NY. American negotiators are working to rewrite trade pacts with Mexico and South Korea, in large part because these countries run large bilateral trade surpluses with the United States. "It's not surprising that the deficit is up because in year one there has been a wide gulf between Trump's fiery trade rhetoric and action". The GDP is a indicator of economic growth.