A truck hauls a container at the port of Los Angeles. REUTERS/Mike Blake

WASHINGTON - The U.S. goods trade deficit widened sharply in July as exports of agricultural products tumbled, suggesting trade will likely be a drag on economic growth in the third quarter.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday the goods trade gap surged 6.3 percent to $72.2 billion last month. Exports of goods dropped 1.7 percent to $140.0 billion, weighed down by a 6.7 percent plunge in shipments of food, feeds and beverages.

That likely reflected a continued reversal of soybean exports after farmers front-loaded shipments of the crop in April and May to China before Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs came into effect in early July. The United States and China are embroiled in a trade war marked by tit-for-tat tariffs.

Last month, there were also decreases in exports of capital and consumer goods, though motor vehicle exports rose. Imports of goods increased 0.9 percent to $212.2 billion in July, boosted by imports of food, industrial supplies and capital goods.

There were also increases in motor vehicle imports, but imports of consumer goods fell.

The U.S. government reported last month that trade contributed 1.06 percentage points to the economy’s 4.1 percent annualized growth pace in the second quarter.

Despite the anticipated drag from trade, economic growth in the July-September quarter is still likely to remain solid.

The Commerce Department also reported on Tuesday that wholesale inventories jumped 0.7 percent in July and stocks at retailers increased 0.4 percent, suggesting inventories could provide a boost to gross domestic product this quarter.

There was an outright inventory liquidation in the second quarter. As a result inventories subtracted a full percentage point from GDP growth in the April-June quarter.


Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao