U.S. Trade Deficits Have Grown More Than 440% with FTA Countries, but Declined 16% with Non-FTA Countries
March 28, 2014
The aggregate U.S. goods trade deficit with Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners is more than five times as high as before the deals went into effect, while the aggregate deficit with non-FTA countries has actually fallen. The key differences are soaring imports into the United States from FTA partners and lower growth in U.S. exports to those nations than to non-FTA nations. Incredibly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website states, “For those worried about the U.S. trade deficit, trade agreements are clearly the solution – not the problem.” Their pitch ignores the import surges contributing to growing deficits and job loss, while their export “data” is inflated, using tricks described below.
The aggregate U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners has increased by more than $147 billion (inflation-adjusted) since the FTAs were implemented. In contrast, the aggregate deficit with all non-FTA countries has decreased by more than $130 billion since 2006 (the median entry date of existing FTAs). Two reasons: a sharp increase in imports from FTA partners and significantly lower export growth to FTA partners than to non-FTA nations over the last decade. Using the Obama administration’s net exports-to-jobs ratio, the FTA trade deficit surge implies the loss of about 800,000 U.S. jobs. Trade with Canada and Mexico (our first and third largest trade partners, respectively) contributed the most to the widening FTA deficit. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. deficit with Canada ballooned and the small U.S. surplus with Mexico turned into a nearly $100 billion deficit. The trend persists under new FTAs – two years into the Korea FTA, the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has jumped more than 51 percent. Reducing the massive trade deficit requires a new trade agreement model, not more of the same.
U.S. Export Growth Falters under FTAs
Growth of U.S. exports to countries that are not FTA partners has exceeded U.S. export growth to countries that are FTA partners by 30 percent over the last decade. Between 2003 and 2013, U.S. goods exports to FTA partner countries grew by an annual average rate of only 4.9 percent. Goods exports to non-FTA partner countries, by contrast, grew by 6.3 percent per year on average. Since 2006, when the number of FTA partner countries nearly doubled with the implementation of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the FTA export growth “penalty” has only increased. Since then, average U.S. export growth to non-FTA partner countries has topped average export growth to FTA partners by 47 percent.
Corporate FTA Boosters Use Errant Methods to Claim Higher Exports under FTAs
Members of Congress will invariably be shown data by defenders of our status quo trade policy that appear to indicate that FTAs have generated an export boom. Indeed, to promote congressional support for new NAFTA-style FTAs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) have funded an entire body of research designed to create the appearance that the existing pacts have both boosted exports and reversed trade deficits with FTA partner countries. This work relies on several methodological tricks that fail basic standards of accuracy:
- Ignoring imports: U.S. Chamber of Commerce studies regularly omit mention of soaring imports under FTAs, instead focusing only on exports. But any study claiming to evaluate the net impact of trade deals must deal with both sides of the trade equation. In the same way that exports are associated with job opportunities, imports are associated with lost job opportunities when they outstrip exports, as dramatically seen under FTAs.
- Counting “re-exports:” NAM has misleadingly claimed that the United States has a manufacturing surplus with FTA nations by counting as U.S. exports goods that actually are made overseas – not by U.S. workers. NAM’s data include “re-exports” – goods made elsewhere that are shipped through the United States en route to a final destination. Determining FTAs’ impact on U.S. jobs requires counting only U.S.-made exports.
- Omitting major FTAs: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly claimed that U.S. export growth is higher to FTA nations that to non-FTA nations by simply omitting FTAs that do not support their claim. One U.S. Chamber of Commerce study omitted all FTAs implemented before 2003 to estimate export growth. This excluded major FTAs like NAFTA that comprised more than 83 percent of all U.S. FTA exports. Given NAFTA’s leading role in the 443 percent aggregate FTA deficit surge, its omission vastly skews the findings.
- Failing to correct for inflation: U.S. Chamber of Commerce studies that have claimed high FTA export growth have not adjusted the data for inflation, thus errantly counting price increases as export gains.
- Comparing apples and oranges: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has claimed higher U.S. exports under FTAs by using two completely different methods to calculate the growth of U.S. exports to FTA partners (an unweighted average) versus non-FTA partners (a weighted average). This inconsistency creates the false impression of higher export growth to FTA partners by giving equal weight to FTA countries that are vastly different in importance to U.S. exports (e.g. Canada, where U.S. exports exceed $251 billion, and Bahrain, where they do not reach $1 billion), despite accounting for such critical differences for non-FTA countries.
Chart: U.S. Trade Deficit Rises by $147 Billion with FTA Partners, Falls by $131 Billion with Rest of the World