By John S. McClenahen U.S. imports of goods and services in July, the most recent month for which Commerce Dept. data are available, dropped more than did U.S. exports. And ordinarily a shrinking trade deficit -- $28.8 billion in July, down from $29.1 billion in June -- would be encouraging news for a U.S. economy that continues to flirt with recession. However, "the improvement in the gap [between U.S. exports and imports] is remarkably modest from an historic perspective," notes Maury Harris, chief U.S. economist at UBS Warburg, New York. "Typically, a slowdown of the current magnitude would quickly slash the trade gap." Harris figures the U.S. July trade deficit with the rest of the world was nominally about $1 billion below the second quarter's average. But when adjusted for inflation, he says, July's figure basically shows no change. "Thus, the [trade] report offers little hope of improvement in third-quarter GDP. The Fed must look elsewhere for help."