Washington American appetites for all things foreign pushed the trade deficit to yet another record in 2005.
And the year's $201.6 billion deficit with China, the largest recorded with a single country, brought demands for a crackdown on what the U.S. sees as unfair trade practices.
The Commerce Department reported Friday that the overall trade gap climbed to an all-time high of $725.8 billion last year. The deficit was up 17.5 percent from 2004, marking the fourth straight record.
The chief culprit last year was record global oil prices and increased U.S. demand because of a loss of Gulf Coast production following Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. foreign oil bill soared to a record $251.6 billion, up 39.4 percent from 2004.
Imports of other consumer goods including foreign autos hit record levels as well.
Analysts predicted that the 2006 trade gap will be even worse, with Global Insight forecasting it could hit $810 billion.
"Trade is far and away the largest weight on the U.S. economy at present," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. "This is a risky time."
The record amounts of dollars that are flowing into foreign hands to pay for imports are being invested in U.S. stocks, bonds and other investments. Economists worry that if foreigners suddenly decide they want to hold fewer U.S. assets, they could send the value of the dollar, stocks and bonds all plunging.