By John S. McClenahen Seemingly defying economists who were expecting a repeat of February's $40.4 billion deficit, U.S. international trade in goods and services posted a $43.5 billion deficit in March. U.S. Commerce Department figures show the nation exported $82.8 billion in goods and services in March, its best showing since last August, but that number was more than offset by $126.3 billion in imports, the highest on recent record. However, even as the overall trade deficit grew by $3.1 billion in March, the deficit for manufactured goods shrank by $1.5 billion, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), Washington, D.C. "This is the third straight month of minor improvement in manufactured trade," notes Jerry J. Jasinowski, NAM's president. "It's still too early to say this is the turnaround we have been waiting for, but manufacturing trade may be beginning to reflect the downward movement of the dollar that has been going on for a year." NAM figures that the U.S. dollar is still 10% over its value in 1997. But that's a lot less than the 30% spread of a year ago. Apparently not fully reflected in March trade numbers is the impact of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus. "The virus only filtered onto the world stage in mid-March," points out UBS Warburg, New York.