Depending on how it was calculated, the United States trade deficit for 1984 totaled $123.3 billion or $108.3 billion or $107.9 billion or $101.5 billion.
The Commerce Department released all those figures, and all are correct. They measure U.S. trade results in different, often confusing ways.
The differences are described in detail in the Oct. 14 issue of Business America, published by the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration.
The most commonly used figure is the merchandise trade deficit, the highest, which reached a record $123.33 billion in 1984 and brought about congressional and industry-labor pressures for protectionist legislation to stem a flood of imports. When final figures for 1985 are released later this month, the deficit -- measured this way -- is expected to approach $150 billion.
That figure measures commerce in goods -- manufactured, agricultural and raw materials -- between the United States and other countries.
The value of imports in that figure is inflated, however, because it includes insurance and freight charges.
The $107.9 billion figure is based on customs value only, omitting insurance and freight charges.
The $108.3 billion figure, called the balance of payments deficit, is the same as the customs valuation, with certain technical adjustments.
The broadest measure of the United States' international transactions is a fourth figure, called the current account, which showed a deficit of $101.5 billion in 1984. It measures trade in services such as banking, insurance, advertising, engineering and tourism as well as the merchandise trade. In addition, it includes investment flows.
That figure, which is issued quarterly, showed in the middle of last year that the United States had become a net debtor nation for the first time since World War II, owing more money to foreigners than it was owed by overseas individuals, companies and governments.
There is another confusing aspect to trade figures. The imports and exports that go into the merchandise trade figures are counted on the docks and in the airports by the U.S. Customs Service and sent to the Commerce Department's Census Bureau for tabulation.
With the flood of imports surging into the United States, Customs agents fell behind, causing distortions in some of the monthly trade figures. The Commerce Department has been revising these figures once they get all the Customs declarations for the month.