Official figures show that the US trade deficit shrank to $58.2 billion in March from a revised $61.7 billion a month earlier, as the weak US dollar fuelled a surge in exports. The gap was narrower than economists had expected.

The improvement in the US trade picture was largely linked to the dollar, which has dropped sharply in value against other world currencies and made US-made goods much more affordable.

February's trade deficit was revised lower to $61.7 billion from an original estimate of $62.3 billion.

Although the value of US exports slipped marginally in March to $148.5 billion, the  volume of exports remained at historical highs. Imports declined a heavier 2.9% during the month to $206.7 billion, suggesting Americans cut back on foreign purchases which have become more costly due to the weak dollar.

A reduction of almost $2 billion in the petroleum deficit in the world's largest oil importer also helped trim the overall deficit. The politically sensitive US trade deficit with China also shrank to its  weakest level since March 2006.