The US trade deficit declined to the lowest level in nearly two years in September as exports rose to a record high, the government said Thursday. The Commerce Department said the trade deficit fell to $41.5 billion in September, 5.1 percent below the August deficit and the smallest imbalance since December 2010. Analysts had expected the trade deficit to widen, and the actual decline suggested U.S. economic growth may have been faster in the third quarter than the 2 percent annual rate initially reported. Exports climbed 3.1 percent to a record high of $187 billion in September, reflecting stronger sales of commercial aircraft, heavy machinery, and agricultural goods. Exports to the 27-country European Union totaled $21.3 billion, unchanged from the previous month. Exports to Latin America rose 4.2 percent, although exports to Brazil, its largest economy, fell 1.8 percent. Exports to China, a fast-growing market for the United States, rose 2.1 percent. Imports also rose in September, increasing 1.5 percent to $228.5 billion, reflecting a $2.7 billion jump in shipments of consumer goods including mobile telephones, toys, and clothing.