WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is off, way off, on the U.S. trade deficit with China. He repeatedly uses an inflated number for the trade gap as the world’s two largest economies escalate their dispute over imports and exports.
He’s also taking liberties as he makes his case for a new crackdown on the southern border to stop illegal immigration, including requesting the deployment of the National Guard.
Here’s a look at his recent comments:
TRUMP: “Because of the Trump Administrations actions, Border crossings are at a still UNACCEPTABLE 46 year low. Stop drugs!” – tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s numbers are dated, and he’s taking credit for a reduction in apprehensions at the southwest border that began before he took office.
The detentions tend to follow a predictable pattern: The numbers begin to rise around January, peak in the spring, and fall as temperatures rise in the summer.
But fiscal year 2017, which lasted from Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2017, was an anomaly, with numbers dipping after the 2016 election and plummeting after Trump took office, through April 2017, which logged the fewest arrests in a single month since the Homeland Security Department was created in 2003. Indeed, thanks to that drop, the 2017 fiscal year logged the fewest Border Patrol arrests in 45 years.
But — and this is a big but — the numbers have been slowly ticking up since that banner month of April. And since the fall of 2017, the numbers have stabilized, returning to the typical arrest rates seen in the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.
The Department of Homeland Security released new statistics this week that show 50,308 arrests in March — a whopping 203 percent increase from March 2017, when there were only 16,588 arrests, and up 37 percent from the previous month. Trump has called the spike a “crisis,” though the numbers are on par with years prior.
Apprehensions at the border are a useful but imperfect gauge of illegal crossing, since nobody knows exactly how many people cross without being detected.
TRUMP: “We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S. Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!” – tweet Wednesday
TRUMP: “When you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!” – tweet Wednesday
THE FACTS: He overstates the trade deficit by $163 billion.
He does this by counting Americans’ purchases of goods from China as a loss for the U.S., while ignoring what China buys from the U.S. He also ignores another big part of the equation — trade in services.
Last year, Americans bought about $505.6 billion in goods from China while China bought about $130.4 billion in goods from the U.S. So the actual trade deficit in goods was just over $375 billion.
Factor in trade in services and the actual U.S trade deficit with China was $337 billion.
As for intellectual property theft, it’s not clear where Trump gets his figure of $300 billion, though it may be a plausible estimate.
Illicit activities such as counterfeit goods, pirated software, theft of trade secrets and copyright and trademark infringement cannot be precisely measured. An independent bipartisan U.S. commission estimated that U.S. interests lost $300 billion from global intellectual property theft in 2013, with China the main culprit. The commission, in a 2017 update, gave a wide-ranging estimate, $225 billion to $600 billion, with thefts led by “thousands of Chinese actors.”
The Trump administration this week announced planned tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports; Beijing responded with plans to penalize imports from the U.S. by the same amount. This followed an opening salvo of U.S. penalties on steel and aluminum imports from overseas, including China, and Beijing’s retaliatory taxes on $3 billion of U.S. products.
U.S. Customs & Border Protection southwest border apprehension statistics: https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/sw-border-migration
2017 U.S. trade statistics: https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/Press-Release/current_press_release/exh20.pdf
Intellectual property theft report: http://www.ipcommission.org/report/IP_Commission_Report_Update_2017.pdf
Associated Press writers Christopher Rugaber, Josh Boak and Elliot Spagat contributed to this report.
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EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures