The U.S. trade deficit widened in December, more than expected, to its highest level in six months as imports outpaced exports, government figures showed on Friday.

The Commerce Department said the trade gap increased to $48.8 billion in December, from $47.1 billion in November, as goods imports climbed to the highest level since July 2008. Imports increased $3.0 billion to $227.6 billion and exports increased $1.2 billion to $178.8 billion.

Economists had expected the deficit to widen to $48.0 billion.

For the full year, the trade gap widened 11.6 percent to $558 billion from $500.0 billion in 2010. Exports of goods and services grew 14.5 percent to a record $2.1 trillion while imports advanced 13.8 percent to a record $2.7 trillion.

A wider deficit shows that more goods and services bought by American businesses and consumers were produced outside the country, subtracting from gross domestic product.

The department said the November-to-December increase in exports reflected higher sales of industrial supplies and materials; automotive vehicles, parts, and engines, and foods, feeds and beverages. Auto imports rose to the highest level since 2007.

The increase in imports reflected mostly $1 billion more for capital goods and $0.9 billion more for consumer goods.

Crude oil imports were up 3 percent in December, totaling $29.3 billion.

The monthly report also showed that the U.S. trade deficit with China hit a record high for 2011, climbing 8.2 percent to $295.46 billion. Although December saw the trade deficit with China narrow 13.9 percent to $23.14 billion, as exports in U.S.'s second largest trading partner slipped 2.3 percent and imports dropped 10.8 percent.