By David Meyer
March 15, 2018

President Donald Trump claimed that he bluffed his way through a trade-related conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to a report based on leaked remarks.

The Washington Post obtained audio of a speech Trump gave at a fundraising event for Missouri Senate hopeful Josh Hawley on Wednesday, in which the president said he strongly asserted to Trudeau that the U.S. runs a trade deficit with Canada, despite not knowing that to be the case.

Trump went on to say that an adviser subsequently told him he was right, if one were to factor in timber and energy.

This isn’t the first time Trump has described the meeting when addressing supporters and potential donors—he rolled out the story at a rally back in December. However, on that occasion he said he told his people to “go out and check” his assertion, not that he was ignorant of the facts when he walked into the closed-door meeting.

Here’s what Trump said this week, as reported by the Post (and yes, the president apparently did a Trudeau impression):

“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.’ 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.”

But does the U.S. run a trade deficit with Canada? According to Trump’s own trade representatives, the answer is no—the U.S. does run a deficit with Canada when it comes to goods, but its surplus in services far outweighs that, leaving an overall surplus of $12.5 billion for 2016.

On the other hand, Canada’s statisticians say it’s Canada that runs the surplus—although Canada also counts goods passing through, such as Chinese imports that are then exported to the U.S., as its own exports. The U.S. sees the same goods as imports from China.

Either way, there is considerable debate among economists and trade experts as to whether trade deficits are always a bad thing.

Trump is in the process of pushing the U.S.’s neighbors for better terms in a renegotiated NAFTA free trade agreement.

“The best deal is to terminate it and make a new deal,” Trump said.

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