Government reports this week revealed the all-important holiday shopping season turned out better than originally predicted.
According to the Commerce Department U.S. Retail Sales increased 0.9 percent in December, their best showing since a 1.4 percent increase in July.
Meanwhile, America's trade deficit narrowed unexpectedly in November to $58.2 billion. That's down a modest $200 million from the previous month, but the move contradicts economic forecasts calling for the gap to widen to $60 billion.
And the government reported this week that U.S. agricultural exports through November of 2006 are about 12 percent above 2005's annual total.
Since agricultural imports are rising much faster than exports, U.S. trade negotiators continue to work on opening foreign markets to U.S. goods. This week, President Bush met with his European Union counterpart in hopes of reviving the all-but-dead Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks.
Both leaders made it clear that there was more at stake than just their $3 trillion trading relationship.
European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso: "Doha is not just about trade it is also about development. It's about having a multilateral approach to trade. There is now the defining moment, we are really at defining moment and we had a very good exchange and we gave instructions to our negotiators who come with a solution as soon as possible."
President George W. Bush: "We both recognize that the best way to help impoverished nations is to complete this Doha round and to encourage the spread of wealth and opportunity through open and reasonable fair trade."
Though trade talks have been publicly deadlocked since 2003 the behind the scenes work has never stopped. Both presidents directed their respective trade representatives to get down to business. Evidence of real progress came later in the day when the two top trade negotiators made a joint statement.
Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner: "We came to Washington today looking for new impetus for the Doha negotiations and I believe we found it. "
Mandelson told reporters the new talks were taking place in a narrow time frame influenced by more than politics. No specifics were mentioned about the breakthrough, but both negotiators were upbeat.
Susan Schwab, U.S. Trade Representative: " ... ultimately it's content over chronology. Nobody is going to reach an agreement on the basis of an artificial deadline if the content isn't there that is substantively and politically viable."