Spending by American consumers and record-high imports as the global economy reopened drove the US trade gap to a new all-time high in March, the Commerce Department reported on Tuesday.

The trade deficit rose 5.6 percent to $74.4 billion, seasonally adjusted, the highest ever recorded and mostly attributable to trade with China, the report said. That beat the previous record set in February.

Imports of goods and services rose $16.4 billion to $274.5 billion in the month, also a historic high.

Exports also rose but lagged behind imports, increasing $12.4 billion to $200 billion, the report said.

Oren Klachkin of Oxford Economic attributed the widening trade gap to "faster US growth relative to the rest of the world."

The record-high US trade deficit is viewed as a consequence of the country's rapid economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic The record-high US trade deficit is viewed as a consequence of the country's rapid economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic Photo: AFP / Frederic J. BROWN

"Stronger US GDP growth compared to trading partners will lead the trade deficit to grow in 2021," he said, noting that "softer global recovery will limit export growth."

Consumer goods imports increased by $4.5 billion, including a $1.2 billion jump in apparel and household goods, and increases of $900 million for furniture and toys and sporting goods. However, cell phone imports fell $1 billion.

In other categories, semiconductor purchases increased $1.3 billion, amid a global supply crunch that has forced US automakers to shutter production.

Auto imports rose $1 billion, the report said.

The trade deficit with China in goods alone increased by $6.7 billion to $36.9 billion, on a $7.6 billion jump in imports, the report said.

For the first quarter of the year, the trade deficit increased $83.2 billion compared to the same period of 2020.