WASHINGTON, D.C.-The March 11th report from the Commerce Department that the January manufactured goods trade deficit dropped by $7 billion from the previous year was hailed as validation that “export-led growth and free trade are continuing to hold the economy above water,” by Frank Vargo, the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) vice president for international economic affairs.

“While the overall U.S. trade deficit in January was $4 billion larger than the same period last year, this was due to the continued growth in the petroleum trade deficit,” says Vargo

The January manufactured goods deficit was $37 billion, compared to $44 billion in January 2007, a 16% improvement over a year, with exports rising 11% and imports growing only 1%.

“The export gain continues a trend that is due to-among other things-the competitive value of the dollar,” says Vargo. “The slow import growth also can be attributed to the value of the dollar, though the slowing U.S. economy has cooled demand for consumer and other goods.

“The other real plus is our free trade agreements,” Vargo says. “Together, our free trade partners accounted for nearly half of our exports, but only $100 million of our $37 billion January deficit-with notable trade balance improvements in NAFTA and CAFTA.

“Legislators opposing the Colombia and other pending trade agreements have got it entirely wrong,” says Vargo. “It’s amazing how they hold on to the myth that these agreements are the problem rather than the solution when it comes to the trade balance. Stalling these agreements is hurting our export and job prospects while preventing legislators from offering solutions to the real problems U.S. manufacturers face.”