fb tracking

Fact-Checking the Obama Administration on Trade

Debunking Data Distortions from Obama's Trade Representative

By Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

Years of unfair, corporate-rigged “trade” deals have contributed to ballooning U.S. trade deficits, mass offshoring of good U.S. jobs, and a historic increase in U.S. income inequality.

But rather than change our failed trade policies, the administration appears bent on trying to hide the facts — by changing the data.

As U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman pushes for the largest expansions of the corporate-rigged “trade” model to date — the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) — his office has resorted to data distortions to obscure the dismal outcomes of past trade deals.

Here’s a sampling of USTR’s outlandish claims, based on data distortions and omissions, alongside the sobering realities about our trade policies, based on official U.S. government data.

Check out these myth-debunking resources from Public Citizen:

USTR’s Trade Myths  | “Factoryless Goods”


USTR’s Trade Myths


“Almost 95% of the world’s consumers are outside America’s borders.” Less than 4 percent of the world’s consumers live in TPP countries with consequential tariffs. Most of those consumers live in Vietnam, where minimum wages average less than 60 cents an hour, meaning they earn too little to afford U.S. exports.
The TPP is “the most progressive trade deal in history.”‘ The TPP includes NAFTA’s offshoring incentives, Bush’s environmental and labor standards, Wall Street’s deregulatory rules, and corporations’ parallel legal system to challenge environmental and health protections. What’s progressive about that?
“If we don’t write the rules, China will.” “We” did not write the TPP’s rules – multinational corporations did. They did not write them to counter China. They did not write them to benefit us. They wrote them to benefit their own narrow interests, at the expense of the majority.

See the tricks behind USTR’s TPP myths.

“The driver on our trade balance with Canada and Mexico… is fossil fuels.” The fossil fuels share of our trade deficit with Mexico and Canada has declined under NAFTA, while the total NAFTA deficit has soared 523 percent, topping $170 billion.
We have a manufacturing trade surplus with our NAFTA partners, Mexico and Canada. We have a manufacturing trade deficit with our NAFTA partners of more than $100 billion.

See the data tricks behind USTR’s NAFTA trade myths.

“Largely due to these two external factors [declines in corn and fossil fuel exports], total U.S. goods exports to Korea were down 4.0% in 2013 compared to 2011 (pre-FTA).” Our trade deficit with Korea has ballooned 99 percent under the FTA, and exports to Korea have fallen. Without corn and fossil fuels, the deficit rise and export fall remain.
“U.S. exports of key agricultural products benefiting from tariff cuts and the lifting of other restrictions under KORUS continued to post significant gains.” Total U.S. agricultural exports to Korea have fallen 19 percent under the FTA.
“U.S. vehicle exports have more than doubled, increasing from 16,659 vehicles in 2011 to 37,914 vehicles in 2014.” U.S. imports of passenger vehicles from Korea have ballooned by 597,607 vehicles in the first three years of the Korea FTA, dwarfing the 36,580-vehicle increase in U.S. passenger vehicle exports to Korea.  

See the data tricks behind USTR’s Korea FTA trade myths.


The Obama Administration’s “Factoryless Goods” Scam
A Proposal to Disguise the Offshoring of U.S. Manufacturing

One administration proposal would even further distort government trade data. By counting products made offshore as ‘U.S. exports,’ this scam would hide the devastation of U.S. manufacturing. It would obscure the U.S. job offshoring that unfair trade deals incentivize.

Under this Orwellian “factoryless goods” rebranding initiative, U.S. firms like Apple that have offshored their production jobs would be reclassified as “factoryless goods” manufacturers. An iPhone made in China and sold in Europe would somehow perversely count as a U.S. manufactured export. This would deceptively deflate the reported U.S. manufacturing trade deficit — and artificially inflate the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs. Apple’s brand managers and programmers would suddenly be counted as “manufacturing” workers!

Thankfully, a groundswell of public opposition has helped to stall this proposal. But it has yet to be permanently buried. As we push to change our failed trade policies, we will need to keep pushing against efforts to try to take away the evidence that such a change is direly needed. Learn more.