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There is little historical evidence that United States President Donald Trump reads every document he puts his name to. Hence the comedic premise behind the recent headlines about him signing an economic report that directly contradicts some of his statements on international trade.

Most notably, the 2018 Economic Report of the President says in black and white that the U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada. We thank Mr. Trump for finally endorsing that position, because he has falsely claimed the opposite in his attacks on the North America free-trade agreement.

But as hilarious as it is to see this President serve as his own fact-checker, the report is actually quite the downer.

It says trade is hugely beneficial to the U.S, despite the trade deficit it has produced, and which Mr. Trump so despises. America is an agricultural and innovation superpower and fast becoming a net energy exporter. It "stands poised to gain from trade agreements that allow it to maximize the benefits of its underlying dynamism," the report says.

But, it adds – presumably in case Mr. Trump reads it – the U.S. needs to remove "barriers to trade imposed by other nations that disproportionately harm American producers."

That was Mr. Trump's mantra in the election: helping workers, most of them in manufacturing, left behind as global trade moved their jobs overseas. All western countries, Canada included, have paid a similar cost in order to reap the overall gains that come from global trade.

Mr. Trump doesn't want to accept that cost, so he blames it on alleged unfair trading practices in other countries. He then uses his country's economic muscle to raise trade barriers and renegotiate free-trade deals in the hope of repatriating enough washing-machine and auto-parts factories to put his voters back to work.

That's simplistic, of course. But then so is Mr. Trump's thinking. He wants all the benefits of global trade without any of the normal costs. His own report suggests that there are better ways of reducing a trade deficit than throwing up barriers and alienating allies. But he isn't interested in those complexities, even if he is willing to sign a report that outlines them in plain English.

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