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U.S. Politics Trump tells crowd questionable story of trade disagreement with Trudeau

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally on Dec. 8, 2017 in Pensacola, Fla.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump regaled a rally of supporters Friday night with a story about a disagreement with Canada's prime minister, and sprinkled his tale with some questionable statistics about international trade.

Trump told a partisan crowd in Florida that he and Justin Trudeau had a closed-door debate about trade balances.

He described it during the part of his speech where he blasted bad trade deals as one of the reasons he won the election, and reiterated his promise to either cancel or renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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He lamented the $71-billion trade deficit with Mexico, then added that there's also a deficit with Canada. That's where he described his exchange with Trudeau – who apparently kept telling Trump the U.S. has no trade deficit with Canada.

"I like the prime minister very much. Prime Minister Trudeau. Nice guy. Good guy. No, I like him. But we had a meeting... He said, 'No, no, you have a trade surplus.' I said, 'No we don't.' He said, 'No, no you have a trade surplus,"' Trump told the Florida crowd.

"(Trudeau) said, 'I'm telling you that Canada has a deficit with the United States.' I told my people – in front of a lot of people – I said, 'Go out and check'."

He said his staff found Trudeau left out some key details, pertaining to trade in goods: "(Trudeau) was right. Except he forgot two categories: Lumber timber; and energy. Other than that, he was right. When you add them all together, we actually have a $17-billion deficit with Canada."

That's not what his own government's statistics say.

Statistics from the website of the office of the U.S. Trade Representatives – the very office handling NAFTA negotiations – paints an opposite portrait to the one Trump paints. It says, of last year's trade balance: "The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was US$12.5-billion in 2016."

That includes a large surplus in trade in services of $24.6-billion, mitigated by a deficit in goods of $12.1-billion.

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Trump's figure on Mexico was also off by almost one-third: The USTR site says the deficit with Mexico last year was about $15-billion smaller than what Trump said, or $55.6-billion in 2016.

A number of economists have also called trade balances a questionable measure of success. They note that the U.S. economy has had a strong year in 2017, while the trade deficit is growing.

Trump has repeatedly threatened to begin pulling out of NAFTA, as a negotiating ploy to pressure Canada and Mexico. Mexico has said it would leave the negotiating table if he triggers NAFTA's withdrawal clause, while Canada has not made such a threat.

Trump told the Florida crowd: "We're gonna hopefully keep NAFTA. But there's a chance we won't. And that's okay."

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