The euro zone trade account slid into a deficit last year of €32.1 billion after a surplus of €15.8 billion in 2007, according to an EU estimate released today.

The figure, supplied by the Eurostat statistics agency, was the worst on record for the bloc of nations using the single European currency, which numbered 15 nations in 2008 but only 13 in 2007. Cyprus and Malta joined the area in January 2008. Slovakia became a member last month.

Created in 1999, the euro zone has never seen its trade deficit exceed €30 billion.

The trade account in the full 27-nation EU was also deep in deficit last year, moving to €241.3 billion compared to a shortfall of €192.4 billion in 2007, Eurostat said. It was the first time since 1999 that this figure had plunged below the €200 billion mark.

However, the trade deficit in the euro zone for December improved slightly, settling at €0.7 billion compared to a deficit of €5.8 billion in November and €3.9 billion in December.