American industry groups, concerned about a record trade gap with China (which shrank 22.7 percent in February), expressed general satisfaction with a series of agreements reached between economic officials of the two countries in Washington. In a lead-up to next week's currency talks between President Bush and his counterpart, Hu Jintao, China pledged to crack down on product piracy and to open up US competition for government contracts.

Although the annual US trade deficit still could surpass last year's record of $723.6 billion, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday that the deficit narrowed 4.1 percent in February and imports fell 2.3 percent, the largest month-to-month decline in nearly a year.

Two days before a 2003 White House announcement that captured Iraqi trailers were "biological laboratories," a Pentagon-sponsored mission concluded they had no connection to production of weapons of mass destruction, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. The secret intelligence report remains classified, the Post said.

Ships in the USS George Washington carrier group are making port calls in the Caribbean Sea as part of a two-month exercise meant to underscore commitment to the region, the Pentagon said. But it again dismissed allegations by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that US forces plan to invade his country.

In a special 18-candidate election in San Diego, Francine Busby (D) emerged Tuesday as the front-runner to replace ex-US Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R), who was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for bribery. Busby received 44 percent of the vote, but fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a June 6 runoff.

Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch said they're cooperating with authorities after the FBI arrested an analyst at each company in what prosecutors call one of the most extensive insider trading cases in decades.

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