WASHINGTON – The U.S. international trade deficit was $46.0 billion for February, a 12.4% decrease from the slightly revised $52.5 billion deficit for January, originally reported as a $52.6 billion shortage, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

The February deficit was less than the median $52.0 billion deficit for the month estimated by economists polled by Thomson Reuters, and resulted from total exports of $181.2 billion and imports of $227.2 billion. The February figure is $600 million greater than the February 2011 deficit.

February exports were $200 million more than the previous month's level of $180.9 billion. That increase reflected an $800 million climb in the export of services, especially travel and private services, the department reported. That increase offset a $600 million decline in the export of goods, particularly automotive parts and foods, feeds, and beverages.

Imports were $6.3 billion less than the January level of $228.7 billion. That decrease was led by falls in imports of consumer goods and industrial supplies, the Commerce Department said.

The changes in both trade deficit and imports represented the largest such month-over-month changes in three years. The 12.4% swing in the deficit was the largest since a 12.5% change from April to May 2009, and the 2.7% fall in imports was the largest since a 5.2% decline between January and February of that year.

The February data revealed that the $19.4 billion February deficit with China, the largest individual deficit, was the smallest since it was $18.1 billion in March 2011. The $7.0 billion trade deficit with Japan, though, was the highest since it was $7.6 billion in April 2008.

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