US trade deficit soared more than 43 per cent to hit a six-and-a-half-year year high of $51.5 billion in March, the largest since October 2008, on the back of an extended labour dispute in major West Coast port that led to a piling up of imported goods on docks, leading to a contraction of the economy in the first quarter.
The resolution of the labour dispute in key West Coast ports and the strength of the US dollar pushed up import costs.
The dollar, which has risen around 12 per cent, also had an impact, as it makes imports cheaper and exports more expensive.
Food, capital and consumer goods' imports reached record highs in March, while petroleum imports fell to the lowest level on record.
Exports edged up 0.9 per cent to $187.8 billion, but imports leaped a record 7.7 per cent to $239.2 billion, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday.
The percentage rise in trade deficit also was the biggest since December 1996, according to the commerce department.
The commerce department also revised February's trade deficit to $35.9 billion from a previously reported $35.4 billion.
Adjusted for inflation, the deficit widened to $67.2 billion in March, the largest in eight years, from $51.2 billion the prior month.
The government estimated trade sliced off 1.25 percentage points from GDP, helping to pull down growth to a 0.2 per cent annual pace. The US economy expanded at a 2.2 per cent rate in the fourth quarter.