The U.S. trade deficit rose 4.3 percent in January, higher than economists expected, as exports to China plunged, the Commerce Department said Friday.

The January trade deficit climbed $2.2 billion from December's level to $52.6 billion in January, as a $4.7 billion import increase offset a $2.6 billion export increase. Analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires predicted a $48.4 billion deficit. 

Overall, the nation imported $233.4 billion of goods and services in January and exported $180.8 billion.

The largest part of January's deficit was with China at $26 billion, up $2.9 billion from the month before, followed by OPEC and the European Union. The trade deficit with the European Union decreased by $1.1 billion.

The average trade deficit for the three months ending in January was $50.2 billion, up by $3.2 billion from the three-month average trade deficit ending in December.

The largest part of January's exports were capital goods at $1.3 billion, automotive vehicles, parts and engines at $1.1 billion and foods, feeds and beverages at $500 million. However, exports of industrial supplies and materials fell by $300 million and consumer goods by $200 million.

While exports of cars, automotive parts and engines increased, imports in that category increased at an even greater rate by $2.4 billion from December to January. Likewise, industrial supplies and materials were up $1.1 billion. Food, feed and beverage imports and imports of consumer goods rose more modestly by $0.4 billion and $0.2 billion, respectively.