Tuesday, October 02, 2018

FactCheck: Trump makes bogus claims about trade

Here's another installment of a series we will run weekly until Election Day, in which we list some of the most relevant items from FactCheck.org and other nonpartisan fact checkers. This one is all about President Trump and trade. We try to make these bipartisan, but are still trying to find a nationally relevant fact-check of a Democrat or Democratic-allied group; please suggest one!

The North American Free Trade Agreement has been much in the news lately because of the newly negotiated United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement which replaces it. But some of President Trump's rhetoric about NAFTA and U.S. trade in general has fallen short of reality. Read more here.

In his 2018 State of the Union address, Trump said "America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs, and our nation’s wealth," but the trade deficit at that time had increased during his presidency, and is still increasing, Fact Check reports: "The U.S. trade deficit for goods and services was $46.9 billion in January 2017, the month Trump took office. In July 2018, according to the latest figures available from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, it was $50.1 billion. That’s an increase of $3.2 billion. The monthly figures are seasonally adjusted. Comparing January through July of this year with the same six-month period in 2017, the trade deficit is up by $22 billion. And it’s up $49.4 billion from the first six months of 2016."

Trump has blamed bad trade deals for U.S. farmers' recent financial woes, but agricultural economists say trade "has been a 'bright spot' for an industry that has been in decline after record income levels from 2011 through 2014," FactCheck reports. "U.S. agricultural exports totaled $140.5 billion in fiscal year 2017 — increasing by $10.9 billion, or 8.4 percent, from the previous year to the third-highest amount on record, according to the Department of Agriculture. China ($22 billion), Canada ($20.4 billion) and Mexico ($18.6 billion) were the United States’ three largest export customers." The U.S. agricultural sector had a trade surplus of $21.3 billion in fiscal year 2017, up almost 30 percent from the previous year's $16.6 billion. 

In August, Trump said the trade balance had improved by $52 billion from the first quarter of 2018 to the second quarter, but the actual figure is $20 billion, FactCheck reports. Though the monthly deficit dropped from March through May, it went back up in June and July.

Trump has claimed that the U.S. has a negative trade balance with "every country," which is untrue. Though the U.S. had an overall trade deficit of $552 billion, it had "positive balances with six of 15 trading partners the Census Bureau highlighted: Hong Kong ($35 billion), Brazil ($28.5 billion), Singapore ($20.3 billion), the United Kingdom ($15.6 billion), Saudi Arabia ($5.3 billion) and Canada ($2.8 billion)," FactCheck reports.

During his campaign, Trump blamed President Bill Clinton for NAFTA, saying it was "his baby." That's misleading and partly wrong, Fact Check reports: "NAFTA was negotiated and signed by President Bill Clinton’s predecessor, President George H.W. Bush. It is true that Clinton signed the bill enabling NAFTA in 1993; however, it took Republican congressional support to get that bill to his desk." The Senate passed the NAFTA implementation law 61-38, in November 1993, "with 34 Republican votes, and the House passed it 234-200, with 132 Republican votes."

President Trump has claimed that the United States has a trade deficit of "over $100 billion a year" with Mexico, but that's incorrect. Census Bureau data shows that the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico "was $69 billion in 2017, up from $63 billion in 2016 and $58 billion in 2015. And it was almost $36 billion through the first two quarters of this year," FactCheck adds. That's almost five times smaller than the U.S.'s $337 billion trade gap with China.

President Trump said at a roundtable discussion in April that China "won't take" U.S. cars, but the U.S. had a trade surplus with China for passenger cars of $8.9 billion in 2017, FactCheck reports.

FactCheck a well-sourced, non-partisan service run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. We encourage you to subscribe to its alerts, here, and republish their findings, which you can do for free with credit to FactCheck.

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