FACT CHECK: Does The US Have A ‘$71 Billion’ Trade Deficit With Mexico?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

President Donald Trump claimed that the U.S. has “a trade deficit right now with Mexico of $71 billion” during a Wednesday interview with Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs.

Trump reiterated his specific “$71 billion” trade deficit figure later in the interview.

Verdict: Unsubstantiated

The Daily Caller News Foundation could not find any studies or estimates that confirm that the current U.S. trade deficit with Mexico is $71 billion. Publicly available data for previous years instead indicate that the trade deficit is around $65 billion.

Fact Check:

Trade between the U.S. and Mexico has markedly expanded over the past three decades.

In 1985, U.S.-Mexico trade totaled around $33 billion; the figure increased over fifteenfold to $523 billion in 2016, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Despite a relatively smaller overall trade volume in 1985, the U.S. exported about $5.5 billion worth of goods more than it imported from Mexico that year. In the decades since, the U.S. began importing more from Mexico than it has exported to Mexico – a “trade deficit,” as Trump has correctly noted.

Most recent trade data for 2016, however, do not substantiate Trump’s specific claim of a “$71 billion” trade deficit “right now” with Mexico.

The U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. International Trade Commission both estimate that the U.S. had a $64.3 billion deficit with Mexico in 2016 – about 11 percent lower than Trump’s claim.

The Office Of The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), a government agency under the Executive Office Of The President, conversely estimates that the U.S. had a $55.6 billion trade deficit with Mexico in 2016.

Trump’s $71 billion claim represents an over 20 percent overstatement of what data provided by a White House office indicate.

The $55.6-billion USTR estimate, however, includes U.S.-Mexico trade of goods as well as services. If the trade of services is excluded – as it is in the Census’ and International Trade Commission data which only incorporate trade of merchandise and goods – USTR’s estimate of the trade deficit increases to $63.2 billion.

Trump’s claim still represents an about 14 percent overstatement of this revised figure.

It is possible, however, that Trump derived his figure from an alternative calculation of the trade deficit as it is “right now” using unreleased information.

Examining the last twelve months of Census trade deficit data, monthly deficits from September 2016 to August 2017 total $69.3 billion. The Census has not yet released September 2017 data, but if it indicates a deficit of around $7.1 billion for the month – as it did for March and May of this year – Trump’s claim would hold up to the facts.

The White House did not respond to TheDCNF’s requests to clarify Trump’s data source, calculation method, or if Trump was referencing data that has not yet been released to the public. Based on current public data, Trump’s claim is unsubstantiated.

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter