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Washington (AFP) – The U.S. international trade deficit shrank sharply in November to a four-year low on record exports and a drop in imports, government data released Tuesday showed.

The trade shortfall narrowed for the second month in a row, to $34.3 billion in November, the smallest gap since September 2009, the Commerce Department said.

The 12.9 percent monthly decline in the nation’s chronic deficit in goods and services with the rest of the world was much steeper than expected. The average analyst estimate was for a deficit of $40.4 billion.

The department revised the October figure to $39.3 billion from the prior estimate of $40.6 billion.

November exports rose 0.9 percent to a record $194.9 billion.

Imports fell 1.4 percent to $229.1 billion amid a decline in oil prices.

Imports of crude oil, which represent about 10 percent of total imports, dropped 10.8 percent in November to $21.4 billion.

Imports of automobiles, however, continued to rise, reaching a record $27.2 billion, the department said.

“Some of the improvement represented prices rather than volumes but the real (inflation-adjusted) data were also positive,” Jim O’Sullivan of HFE Economics said in a research note.

“The data look consistent with net exports adding at least a point to Q4 real GDP growth,” he said.

The November deficit was 26.1 percent less than November 2012. Exports were 5.2 percent higher and imports 1.1 percent lower.

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