WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump insisted Tuesday night that America had “turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs, and our nation’s wealth.”
Alas, the numbers tell a different story.
The trade deficit, according to the most recent data published by the Commerce Department, has increased by $53.4 billion, or 11.6 percent, over the past year. That figure includes rising trade deficits with both Mexico and China ― two frequent targets of Trump’s trade wrath dating back to his campaign for office.
Persistent trade deficits result not only in domestic manufacturing job losses, but an overly financialized economy prone to banking instability.
The Commerce Department data isn’t totally grim. Exports are rising ― imports are just increasing more.
That’s largely because Trump hasn’t actually done anything on trade. He didn’t sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of President Barack Obama’s flagship foreign policy efforts, and he also didn’t meaningfully alter any other major trade pact. As a result, existing trends in the global economy have been magnified. The TPP ― which the vast majority of Congressional Democrats and many hardline conservative Republicans opposed ― almost certainly would have exacerbated the trade deficit.
Tuesday night, Trump preferred to focus on small anecdotes rather than the big picture.
“Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States ― something we have not seen for decades,” Trump said. “Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan; Toyota and Mazda are opening up a plant in Alabama. Soon, plants will be opening up all over the country. This is all news Americans are unaccustomed to hearing ― for many years, companies and jobs were only leaving us. But now they are coming back.”
The Chrysler plant ― which will assemble pickup trucks ― will bring about 2,500 jobs in Warren, Michigan. But the incentives to send U.S. jobs the other way are still alive and well. One Carrier plant in Indianapolis has shed over 500 jobs this year, despite a “deal” Trump cut with the company’s executives to save jobs at the factory a few weeks before his inauguration. The jobs, like 700 jobs that left a Carrier affiliate in nearby Huntington, Indiana, last year, are going to Mexico.