For Trump's numbers, close enough is frequently good enough


Washington (AFP)

When it comes to numbers, US President Donald Trump worries little about precision.

The latest example came as he announced negotiations were underway between Washington and Beijing to reduce the soaring US trade deficit with China -- with Trump misstating a central figure by 99 percent.

"China has been asked to develop a plan for the year of a One Billion Dollar reduction in their massive Trade Deficit with the United States," Trump said in a tweet on Wednesday.

China in fact runs a massive trade surplus with the United States. Furthermore, $1 billion would represent only 0.3 percent of the US goods and services deficit with China in 2016.

Trump should have said $100 billion.

The Wall Street Journal corrected the president on Thursday in article by a Beijing correspondent, reporting that both sides had agreed on a $100 billion US deficit reduction during a recent visit to Washington by Chinese economic adviser Liu He.

Trump's tweet remained uncorrected on Twitter as of midday Friday.

On Thursday, as he unveiled steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, Trump declared that the US had a trade deficit with China of "at least $500 billion," adding that if losses on intellectual property were counted, "it's much bigger than that."

Wide off the mark again.

In goods alone, the US trade deficit with China in 2017 was a record $375.2 billion.

The $500 billion figure may represent the value of US imports from China without taking into account the value of US exports to that country.

During the week, Trump's permissive attitude toward the facts also extended to the family of a steelworker invited to the White House for the tariff announcement.

"Your father Herman is looking down, he's very proud of you right now," Trump said to Scott Sauritch.

"Oh, he's still alive," Sauritch answered.