President Donald Trump let his top trade office know Thursday morning that when it comes to all data about the United States’ trading relationships with other countries, he believes his gut knows best.
During a Wednesday GOP fundraiser in Missouri, the president said Canada is among those countries that have a trade surplus with the U.S. and has treated America unfairly. He also admitted to being unaware if that statement was true when he said it to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And he made clear he often simply wings it.
“‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong,’” Trump said, according to an audio recording obtained by the Washington Post. “I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart. I said, ‘You’re wrong, Justin.’ He said, ‘Nope, we have no trade deficit.’”
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The next morning Trump appeared to be responding to cable news coverage of the recording, tweeting his insistence that “We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive).”
He dubbed Trudeau a “very good guy” who merely “doesn’t like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S.(negotiating), but they do…”
But the president was just getting warmed up.
Trump did not offer any supporting data or links, but he did provide this justification for his claim: “They almost all do,” he wrote of other countries, “and that’s how I know!”
We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive). P.M. Justin Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn’t like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S.(negotiating), but they do…they almost all do…and that’s how I know!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2018
In making the claim in what he thought was a private setting then standing by it with his tweet, the president broke with the United States Trade Representative’s office — just as they are trying to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. The office’s director, Robert Lighthizer, also will be heavily involved in negotiations with a list of countries hoping to secure waivers or other changes to Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs.
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Here is what the USTR says about the U.S.-Canada trade relationship on its website: “U.S. goods and services trade with Canada totaled an estimated $627.8 billion in 2016. Exports were $320.1 billion; imports were $307.6 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016.”
But Trump contended in his Missouri comments that he had his staff run the numbers. They informed him, according to the recording obtained by the Post: “‘Well, sir, you’re actually right. We have no deficit, but that doesn’t include energy and timber. … And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.’ It’s incredible.”
Critics, however, have been less interested in the data and what the president’s comments say about how he often flies fast and loose with information — even while talking to a close ally.
Trump also lashed out at America’s northern neighbor in a March 5 tweet in which he accused Canada of “highly restrictive” trade tactics.