A surge in exports reduced the U.S. trade deficit by 3.6 percent in March to $40.37 billion, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

Exports rose 2.2 percent - the largest increase since June 2013 - to $193.9 billion, while imports climbed 1.7 percent to $234.28 billion, driven by higher sales of foreign foodstuffs and consumer goods.

U.S. exports of capital goods and industrial equipment expanded.

The March trade deficit was slightly larger than projected by the Commerce Department and private analysts.

The deficit for the first three months of the year totaled $121.5 billion, compared with $121.95 billion during the same period of 2013.

A period of steady decline in the second half of last year brought the U.S. trade deficit down to $35.17 billion in November, but the figure then started moving in the opposite direction.

The new trade data may lead to an upward revision of growth in the first quarter.

U.S. gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of 0.1 percent in the January-March period, according to the Commerce Department's initial estimate. EFE