The top false claims Trump makes about trade

  • President Donald Trump repeatedly makes misleading and false claims about trade.
  • Some of the top falsehoods portray trade as a zero-sum game and seek to minimize perceived costs.
  • Trump says China pays US tariffs, for example, but there is a strong consensus that businesses and consumers bear the costs.

The Trump administration has raised valid concerns in its economic war with China, including what officials have found to be a system that allows intellectual-property theft and unfair state subsidies to companies.

Yet when it comes to trade, President Donald Trump has been repeating falsehoods left and right. Here are some of the most popular ones.

China pays US tariffs

Trump repeats this false claim often, saying that foreign exporters pay tariffs levied by the US.

"Billions of Dollars are pouring into the coffers of the U.S.A. because of the Tariffs being charged to China, and there is a long way to go," he wrote on Twitter in November. "If companies don't want to pay Tariffs, build in the U.S.A. Otherwise, lets just make our Country richer than ever before!"

However, study after study has found that businesses and consumers bear the cost. Tariffs cost Americans about $1.4 billion per month in 2018, according to a recent paper by economists at Columbia, Princeton, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  

RELATED: Take a look at all of the products directly affected by Trump's tariffs:

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Products directly hit by Trump's tariffs on Chinese goods
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Products directly hit by Trump's tariffs on Chinese goods
Meat: pork; beef intestine; rabbit meat; venison; frog legs
Fish and seafood:live fish including ornamental fish, trout, eels, tuna, and carp; chilled or frozen meat of various types of trout, salmon, halibut, plaice, sole, albacore, tuna, herring, mackerel, cobia, swordfish, pollack, whiting, catfish, rays, and more; various types of salted or smoked fish; other seafood including various types of lobsters, crabs, shrimps, prawns, oysters, scallops, mussels, clams, squid, octopus, conchs, abalone, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins.
Non-meat animal products such as eggs and dairy:Whey products; butter; various types of eggs including chicken; honey; hair of animals including human, hog, horse and badger; animal intestines, bladders; feathers; bones including shells, beaks, corals, hooves, antlers, and more.
Vegetables:onions; garlic; cauliflower and broccoli; cabbage; carrots; turnips; radishes; beats; cucumbers; peas of various types; beans; lentils; celery; mushrooms; peppers of various types; squash; okra; sweet corn; potatoes; sweet potatoes and yams; some types of tomatoes; spinach; Brussels sprouts.
Fruit and Nuts: Coconuts; cashews; almonds; hazelnuts; walnuts; chestnuts; pistachios; macadamia nuts; pecans; dates; figs; pineapples; guavas; oranges; mandarins; clementines; raisins; grapes; apples; pears; quinces; peaches; berries including strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, blueberries and others; bananas; a variety of dried fruits; peels of various fruits.
Cereals: wheat, including durum wheat; barley; oats; corn; various types of rice; grain sorghum; buckwheat; quinoa; and more.
Mill products: flours including those form wheat, corn, buckwheat, rice, rye, other cereals, potatoes, and bananas; groats and meal of various types including wheat, corn, oats, and rice; malt; starches of wheat, corn, potato, and more
Oil seeds: soybeans; seeds of sunflower, flax seed, sesame, mustard, poppy and more; planting seeds for certain crops; cocoas and mint leaves; and seaweeds.
Sugars and candies: cane sugar; candies with no cocoa
Breads and Pasta: uncooked pasta; various breads, pastries, cakes, and biscuits.
Prepared vegetables and fruits: various vegetables and fruits previously listen in their prepared or preserved forms; various fruit jams including strawberry, pineapple, apricot, and more; peanut butter; various fruit juices including orange, pineapple, lime, grape, apple, and more.
Other food items: soy sauce; condiments and seasonings; protein concentrates.
Beverages and vinegars: water, including mineral water; fruit or vegetable juices and juice mixes; beer from malt; wine, including rice wine; ethyl alcohol; vinegars
Food processing waste and animal feed: brans from processing; oil cakes; dog or cat food; animal feed
Tobacco products: various types and preparations of tobacco; tobacco refuse; cigars; cigarettes; smoking tobacco
Salts and minerals: salt/sodium chloride; sulfur; graphite; quartz; types of clays; chalk; slate; marble; granite; sandstone; dolomite; gypsum; some plasters; some types of cement; mica; Epsom salts
Ores, slag, and ash: ores of iron, copper, nickel, cobalt, aluminum, lead, zinc, tin, chromium, tungsten, uranium, titanium, silver, other precious metals, and others; slag, various types of ash.
Mineral fuels and oils: coal; lignite; peat; coke; tars; various types of light oil; various types of kerosene; petroleum oils; liquefied fuels including natural gas, propane, butane, ethylene, and petroleum; oil shale and tar sands
Inorganic Chemicals: chemicals such as chlorine, sulfur; carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and silicon; acids including sulfuric, nitric, and more; various types of fluorides, chlorides, sulfates, nitrates, carbonates, and more.
Organic chemicals
Fertilizers: animal or vegetable fertilizers; urea; ammonium sulfate; sodium nitrate; and more.
Tanning and drying extracts, dyes, and paints
Essential oils, perfumes: perfume; lip or eye make up preparations; manicure or pedicure products; shampoo; hairspray; bath salts.
Soaps and cleaning products: various types of soap; leather and textile treatments; polishes for shoes and furniture.
Glues, adhesives, and enzymes
Cigarette lighter fluid
Photographic goods: various types of photo plates; instant film; various types of film in rolls; various types of motion picture film.
Various chemical products: pesticides; herbicides; fungicides
Plastics: vinyl flooring and other plastic floor and wall coverings; sausage casings; bags; gloves including baseball gloves; rain jackets; machinery belts.
Rubber: latex; rods, tubes, and other products; conveyor belts; various types of transmission belts; various types of pneumatic tires; gloves; gaskets; dock fenders.
Raw hides and leather: animal skins including cow, buffalo, sheep, goats, reptile; various types of leather made from cow, buffalo, sheep, goats, reptile; leather trunks and suitcases; leather handbags; CD cases; gloves including ski, ice hockey, and typical use; belts; fur clothing, incluidng artificial fur.
Wood: fuel wood; charcoal; various types of wood including oak, beech, maple, ash and cherry; moldings; rods; particleboard; various types of plywood; doors; corks and stoppers; wicker and bamboo baskets.
Wood pulp products
Paper: Newsprint; writing paper; vegetable parchment; carbon paper; self-adhesive paper; cigarette paper; envelopes; tablecloths; handkerchiefs; folders.
Silk
Wool or animal hair products: cashmere; yarns; tapestries and upholstery.
Cotton: fibers; thread; yarn; denim; satin.
Flax: yarn; fabrics
Man-made textiles: polypropylene; rayon; nylon; polyester
Other textile products, rope, twine: hammocks; fish nets; carpets;
Fabrics: corduroy; gauze; terry towel; lace; badges; embroidery
Headgear: caps; hairnets; wool hats; head bands
Stone, plaster, cement, asbestos: stone for art; marble slabs; roofing slate; millstones; sandpaper; floor or wall tiles; cement bricks.
Ceramics: fire bricks; pipes; tiles; porcelain and china.
Glass and glassware: balls; rods; drawn or blown glass; float glass; tempered safety glass; mirrors; carboys, bottles, jars, pots, flasks, and other containers; microscope slides; woven fiberglass
Precious stones and pearls: industrial diamonds; silver and products made of silver; gold and products made of gold; platinum; palladium.
Iron and steel and products derived from the metals:drums; tubes; pipes; doors; windows; screws; horseshoes;
Copper: plates; cables; tubes; pipes; springs
Nickel: bars; rods; wires
Aluminum:powder; cable; wire; screws.
Various metal products, tools, cutlery: industrial items made from lead, zinc, tin, and more; saw blades; bolt cutters; hammers; wrenches; crow bars.
Machinery, both industrial and retail: steam turbines; engines; fuel-injection pumps; air compressors; air conditioning machines; refrigerators; cream separators; hydraulic jacks; escalators; manure spreaders; copiers; automatic beverage-vending machines
Electronics: vacuum cleaners; hair clippers; spark plugs; generators; bicycle lights; electric amps; television cameras; various types of TVs; video projectors.
Vehicles and parts: axles; driving shafts; gear boxes; radiators.
Parachutes

Ships and boats: sailboats; motorboats; canoes; yachts.

Instruments for scientific or medical purposes: microscopes; cameras for non-art purposes; gauges for pressure, electrical currents, and more.
Clocks and watches
Furniture, bedding, mattresses: car seats; wood chairs; furniture designed for offices, kitchens, and more; mattresses; chandeliers; lamps.

Assorted items: buttons; stamps; paintings; collections of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, anatomical, historical, archaeological interest; antiques of an age exceeding one hundred years

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Trade imbalances signal a weak economy

Trump views the trade balance as a zero-sum scorecard of sorts, arguing that a deficit means the US is losing to China. As a candidate in 2016, he called the US-China trade deficit "the greatest theft in the history of the world."

The figure is driven by many factors, however, including foreign-exchange rates, the amount a country borrows from abroad, and economic policies at home.

The trade deficit the US holds with other countries widened to its highest level in a decade in 2018, partly because of a $1.5 trillion tax cut package that took effect that year. The deficit-funded package created more demand for imports, while a strong dollar weighed on exports. 

Tariffs make the US richer

"Tariffs will bring in FAR MORE wealth to our Country than even a phenomenal deal of the traditional kind. Also, much easier & quicker to do," Trump wrote on Twitter last week.

Nope. Tariffs create market distortions and can lead to retaliatory measures, causing deadweight losses. They also cast a cloud of uncertainty onto businesses and consumers, who might then delay investment and spending.

And remember, research suggests revenue from duties ultimately comes from American businesses and consumers

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