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Trump Boasts of Making Up Trade Claim in Meeting With Canada's Trudeau

President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion on tax policy at the Boeing Company, March 14, 2018, during a visit to in St. Louis, Missouri.

U.S. President Donald Trump claimed Wednesday that he made up information about a purported U.S. trade deficit with Canada during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, without knowing whether such a deficit existed.

Trump recounted his White House meeting with the Canadian leader last October while talking to political donors in Missouri, with The Washington Post quoting from an audio recording of the president's remarks at the private event.

“Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said, ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,’” Trump said, as he mimicked Trudeau. “Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in -‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed.

“...So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know...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.’ I said, ‘Well, in that case, I feel differently,’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe it.’ I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said, ‘Check, because I can’t believe it.’

‘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.”

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Feb. 13, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Feb. 13, 2017.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative says that in 2016, the most recent year with complete statistics, the United States had a $12.5 billion trade surplus with its neighbor to the north, with the U.S. exporting $320.1 billion in goods and services to Canada and importing $307.6 billion. It was not clear what Trump was referring to when pointing to energy and timber trade figures, because those, as natural resources, are included in the overall trading figures.

Repeating false claim

Trump continued to make the Canadian trade deficit claim on Thursday, without offering new numbers.

"We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive)," he said in a Twitter remark. "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!"

Trump's remarks on trade with Canada come at a time when the two allies and Mexico are negotiating changes to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump claims is unfair to the United States. The U.S. ran a $55.6 billion trade deficit with Mexico in 2016.

In one recent tweet, Trump said Canada needed to treat American farmers better in a revised NAFTA, while Mexico needed to tighten its border security to thwart more undocumented immigrants from entering the United States.

Trump last week imposed a new 25 percent tariff on steel imports to the U.S. and 10 percent on aluminum, while at least temporarily exempting Canada and Mexico from the levies.

In the Missouri speech, Trump attacked the European Union, China, Japan and South Korea for trade imbalances with the U.S.

Trump singled out South Korea, a longtime ally, seeming to threaten to withdraw the U.S. military from the Korean peninsula.

“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them,” Trump said. “We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.”

“Our allies care about themselves,” he said. “They don’t care about us.”

In 2016, the U.S. trade office said the country ran a $17 billion trade deficit with South Korea.

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