AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s goosey claims on trade, jobs

Published 8:18 am Monday, June 11, 2018

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is using some goosey numbers to rationalize his aggressive rhetoric on trade, disregarding strong points in U.S. competitiveness to paint a dark portrait of a world taking advantage of his country.

Conversely, he’s glossing over aspects of the economy that don’t support his faulty contention that it’s the best it’s ever been. The complexities of health care for veterans are also set aside as he hails a new era in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ system.

A look at some of his statements over the past week and the reality behind them:

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TRUMP: “Why isn’t the European Union and Canada informing the public that for years they have used massive Trade Tariffs and non-monetary Trade Barriers against the U.S. Totally unfair to our farmers, workers & companies. Take down your tariffs & barriers or we will more than match you!” — tweet Thursday.

TRUMP: “Farmers have not been doing well for 15 years. Mexico, Canada, China and others have treated them unfairly. By the time I finish trade talks, that will change. Big trade barriers against U.S. farmers, and other businesses, will finally be broken. Massive trade deficits no longer!’ — tweet Monday.

THE FACTS: Whatever his beef with farm trade with specific countries, he’s wrong in suggesting U.S. agriculture runs a trade deficit. The U.S. exports more food products than it imports, running a $17.4 billion surplus last year. It’s long been a bright spot in the trade picture and it’s why many U.S. farmers are worried about losing markets as Trump retreats from, renegotiates or disparages trade deals.

U.S. farmers do brisk business with the three countries he complains about in the tweet, two of them under the umbrella of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump is threatening to leave if it’s not recast to give the U.S. greater advantage. The U.S. exported $20.5 billion in agricultural products last year to Canada, the largest market for U.S. farmers. That made for a modest deficit of $1.8 billion. The U.S. exported $18.6 billion in farm goods to Mexico, running a deficit of $6 billion.

The U.S. has a lopsided advantage with China on farm goods, in contrast to manufactured products. It sold $21 billion in agricultural products to China in 2016, for a surplus of $16.7 billion.

The Agriculture Department says exports of food products have grown “steadily over the last two decades.”

Trump’s unrelievedly negative view of the EU may be grounded in a substantial trade deficit with the continent, but his administration’s trade office takes a longer and more benevolent view of the relationship.

“Two-way U.S.-EU trade has been roughly balanced over time,” says the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, “and the very high levels of foreign investment accounted for by each in the other’s markets means that the transatlantic economy is arguably the most integrated on Earth.”


TRUMP: “The EU trade surplus with the U.S. is $151 Billion.” — tweet Thursday.

THE FACTS: He’s wrong about the trade deficit with the EU. As he usually does, Trump ignored trade in services in his calculation. The U.S. is more competitive in services than in goods overall, and services are a big part of the trade equation. The U.S. saw a $153 billion trade deficit in goods with the EU last year, but a surplus in services brought the actual trade deficit with the union down to $101 billion.


TRUMP: “Best Economy & Jobs EVER, and much more.” — tweet Monday referring to achievement in his first 500 days in office.

THE FACTS: May’s unemployment rate of 3.8 percent is not the best ever. And the economy has seen many periods of stronger growth.

The lowest unemployment rate since World War II was reached in 1953, when it averaged 2.9 percent, almost a full point lower than today. The job market is certainly strong, with unemployment at an 18-year low, and if it drops another tenth of a point, it’ll be the lowest since 1969.

Yet the jobless rate was at or below 4 percent for four straight years back then, from 1966 through 1969, and wages were rising more quickly. The cost of items such as college and health care was much lower then.

Overall the economy has yet to show it can sustain growth in excess of 3 percent, as Trump has promised.