Politifact: Trump inflates size of U.S. trade deficit with China


President Donald Trump has long bemoaned the United States’ trade deficit with China, and he ratcheted up pressure on Beijing by announcing tariffs on up to $60 billion worth of imported Chinese goods.

It turns out the numbers he cited on U.S.-China trade are well off the mark.

The U.S. deficit with China in goods trade has grown substantially over roughly two decades. The deficit in 1990 was $10.4 billion. It grew to $83.8 billion in 2000 and swelled to $273 billion in 2010, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

In 2017, the value of Chinese goods imported to the United States ($505 billion) exceeded U.S. goods exports to China ($130 billion) by roughly $375 billion. Americans racked up billions in purchases of Chinese-made goods, such as communications and computer equipment, kitchen appliances, and shoes.

Based on trade in goods, Trump’s $500 billion figure is off by $125 billion.

When you factor in goods and services, which economists say paints the fuller picture, his claim is further off.

According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the United States actually ran a surplus in the services trade with China in 2017 — to the tune of roughly $38.5 billion.

When you factor that surplus into the two countries’ overall trade balance, the United States ran a roughly $336 billion deficit with China last year — which means Trump’s figure was off by about $164 billion.

It’s possible Trump may have confused the Chinese deficit with the United States’ overall trade deficit, which was $566 billion in 2017, according to the bureau.

However, it’s also possible Trump used the $500 billion figure as a matter of habit. We rated this claim Mostly False when he said it in 2015.

Our ruling

In 2017, the value of Chinese goods imported to the United States exceeded U.S. goods exports to China by roughly $375 billion. Over that same period, the United States actually ran a $38.5 billion surplus on services trade with China. Overall, in terms of both goods and services, the U.S. trade deficit with China in 2017 was about $336 billion — meaning Trump was off by roughly $164 billion.

We rate this Mostly False.


Reader Comments

Next Up in National

Entire floor at D.C. federal courthouse sealed off for mystery case
Entire floor at D.C. federal courthouse sealed off for mystery case

Journalists were kept away from a secret federal appeals court hearing on Friday in Washington, D.C., as officials sealed off an entire floor for arguments in a mysterious grand jury case which some believe could be related to the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The case &ndash...
Congress passes plan to make lawmakers pay for sex harassment judgments
Congress passes plan to make lawmakers pay for sex harassment judgments

Facing outrage from voters that taxpayer money was being used to pay for sexual harassment settlements against members of Congress involving employees on Capitol Hill, the House and Senate on Thursday approved a package of reforms designed to force members of Congress to pay for any such judgments with their own money in the...
Federal deficit soars by $205 billion in November
Federal deficit soars by $205 billion in November

After starting the 2019 fiscal year with $100 billion in red ink, Uncle Sam added more than double that in the month of November, as the Treasury Department reported Thursday that the federal government ran a deficit last month of $204.9 billion, leaving the deficit at over $300 billion just two months into the new fiscal year...
House leaves town with no sign of deal to avoid partial shutdown
House leaves town with no sign of deal to avoid partial shutdown

With just over a week until funding runs out for part of the federal government, House GOP leaders said no votes would be scheduled until at least next Wednesday, with no indications of any active negotiations or solutions to the demand by President Donald Trump that he get $5 billion for his border wall in a year-end legislative...
Parent company of National Enquirer paid off woman for Trump
Parent company of National Enquirer paid off woman for Trump

As President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday by a federal judge, prosecutors in New York revealed that the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, American Media Inc., had admitted paying $150,000 to a former Playboy model, in order to insure that her story...
More Stories