Sunday, March 11, 2018

"White lies" about US trade deficits

So, I'm a bit puzzled (and I know I'm not the only one) as to why Donald Trunp and NAFTA negotiator Robert Lighthizer are still insisting that the USA has a "yuge" trade deficit with Canada, when everybody and their dog is telling them that that is not the case.
Just this last week, Trump, in his inimitable and frankly tedious way, repeated his oft-stated and erroneous belief that Canada runs a large trade deficit with the USA. It is the basis of his whole "renegotiate-NAFTA-worst-trade-deal-in-history" stance with Canada, so I guess he can't really change his tune now, and he has never been one to let the truth get in the way of a good deal anyway.
In fact, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative's own official figures, the USA ran a $12.5 billion trade surplus with Canada in 2016 (the latest full-year figures available), comprised of a $12.1 billion deficit in goods, more than offset by a $24 billion surplus in services. Even that goods deficit is the smallest since 1993, and well down from its 2005 peak of $78.5 billion. Certainly, it pales into insignificance when compared the the US trade deficit with sone other countries, like China ($385 billion), European Union ($92 billion), Mexico ($55 billion), Japan ($57 billion), Vietnam ($32 billion), etc.
Now, whether President Trump and his NAFTA negotiators are just wilfully choosing to ignore the trade in services is hard to know. But it appears that head Trade Rep Lighthizer is incorrectly including in his figures goods that originate in other countries but that happen to pass through Canada en route to the USA (so, if a washing machine, for example, is exported from China, but passes through, say, Vancouver on the way to the United States, Lighthizer's figures include it in both China's trade figures and Canada's, which is clearly double-counting in most people's books). This can add up to a substantial amount, estimated at around $75 billion a year, which is where the rather alarming deficit figure of $87 billion that Lighthizer uses from time to time, comes from. It is difficult to believe that after, what, seven rounds of NAFTA negotiations this has still not been ironed out and corrected. How do you negotiate a deal with someone who insists on using incorrect figures?
In Donald Trump's case, though, I understand he will just say whatever is convenient, regardless of the underlying truth. For example, he has repeatedly claimed that, "We don't have a surplus with anybody". The actual figures, however, indicate otherwise. For example, the US Trade Representatives' own figures show a nearly $29 billion surplus with Hong Kong, a $19 billion surplus with United Arab Emirates, a $28 billion surplus with Australia, a nearly $19 billion surplus with Singapore, etc, etc.
I guess it's all part of the "art of the deal", or what ex-White House Communications Director Hope Hicks calls "white lies".

No comments: