The US Commerce Department announced Friday that the chasm between the nation's exports and imports in 2004 widened to an alltime high of $671.7 billion (€522.15bn; £359.97bn). The latest numbers exceed by 24.4% the previous worst showing in 2003, a mere deficit of $496.5bn.

The imbalance with China was the largest ever recorded with a single country - up by 30.5% to $162bn.

The Bush administration claims that the eyewatering deficit simmply means that America is growing at faster rate than the rest of the world, thereby generating more demand for imported goods.

And in the backwaters of Friedman-style economic thinking at the US Treasury, some believe the deficit will allow the administration the perverse paradox of an upward revision in economic growth for last year's fourth quarter.

Democrats see it otherwise, accusing the administration of failing to clamp down sufficiently on unfair foreign trade practices.

They cite China's currency policy - which some economists claim undervalues the yuan by up to 40% and thereby hands China's economy an unfair advantage against US competitors.

The overall picture for 2004 shows US exports rising 12.3% to $1.15 trillion. Imports, however, soared 16.3% to a new record of $1.76 trillion.

Meantime, the administration remains cool at the freefall of the US dollar. As former president Nixon's treasury secretary once famously told the rest of the planet: 'Our dollar, your problem.'

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff