The nation's merchandise trade deficit soared.

The merchandise trade deficit totaled $28.3 billion in the period from January through March, up 16% from the deficit during the last three months of 1984, the Commerce Department reported. The sharp deterioration came despite the fact that oil imports fell to the lowest level since the early 1970s. The good news on oil was overshadowed by a big increase in imports of manufactured goods and a sizable decline in agricultural sales overseas, the Commerce Department said. While the new report covers the same trade, it shows a lower deficit because it omits such factors as military sales and the cost of shipping and insurance.

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