The US trade deficit rose to $57 billion in April as a swollen oil import bill overpowered record sales of exports including civilian aircraft, the government said today.

Wall Street was expecting the shortfall to widen to $58 billion, compared with a revised $53.6 billion in March. The first figure reported for March by the Commerce Department was $55 billion.

Economists said the unexpectedly large March revision was driven by exchange rate movements, notably in the dollar-euro rate, and could benefit overall economic growth for the quarter.

US companies sold a record amount of goods overseas in April, but on the flip side, American consumers and businesses bought a record amount of imported goods to result in the fourth-highest deficit ever.

Exports rose 3% to a record $106.4 billion in April. But imports rose by a faster 4.1% to $163.4 billion, also a new high, mostly because of record crude oil prices.

The US trade deficit with China widened to $14.7 billion in April, compared with $12 billion in the same month last year. Imports of Chinese textiles, a particularly sensitive issue this year following the scrapping of global quotas on textile products, are up 51.7% year to date.

The Bush administration has got tough with China by re-imposing quotas on some textile goods and warning of action down the line unless the communist country relaxes its currency regime.

 Exports of US goods alone rose 4.2% to $74.5 billion in April, led by farm produce. Exports of civilian aircraft jumped 40.8% to $3.21 billion.

On the import side, US businesses bought a record amount of industrial supplies - mostly petrol and capital goods. The US imported $19.4 billion of crude oil in April, the second-highest amount on record.

The overall US trade deficit is down from a record high of $60.6 billion reached in February. Encouraged by low interest rates, US consumers show little sign of easing up on a spending spree that has contributed to the widening deficit by stoking demand for imported goods.

Retail sales have been little deterred by eight successive hikes by the Federal Reserve that have taken the benchmark US interest rate to 3%.