Facts are under assault in 2020.

We can't fight back misinformation about the election and COVID-19 without you. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact

More Info

I would like to contribute

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29, 2020. (AP) Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29, 2020. (AP)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29, 2020. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson September 30, 2020

Joe Biden off-base on debate attack over US-China trade deficit

If Your Time is short

• The most inclusive measurement, for goods and services, shows that the U.S. trade deficit with China was smaller under Trump in 2019, the most recent full year, than it was in any of the final three years of the Obama administration.

•  Looking only at goods shows the trade deficit was generally higher under Trump than it was in the Obama years, but it declined in 2019 to around the level as the final year of the Obama administration.

During the first presidential debate, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden went after President Donald Trump over trade with China, an issue Trump often uses against Biden.

"You take a look at what he's actually done, he's done very little," Biden said. "His trade deals are the same way. He talks about these great trade deals. You know, he talks about ‘The Art of the Deal,’ China has perfected the art of the steal. We have a higher deficit with China now than we did before."

In reality, the U.S. deficit with China in goods and services, the most inclusive trade measurement, was smaller under Trump in 2019, the most recent full year, than it was in any of the final three years of the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president. 

Here’s the year-by-year data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis:

 

While the trade deficit in goods and services with China improved under Trump between 2018 and 2019, it’s still large in an absolute sense. The U.S. bought in excess of $300 billion more in goods and services from China in 2019 than China did from the U.S.

Biden’s campaign pointed to a more limited figure — trade in goods only — which shows that the trade deficit with China has generally been higher under Trump than it was under Obama.

But even here, the U.S. made progress under Trump in 2019 in whittling down the goods deficit. The goods deficit was $375 billion in 2017, $418 billion in 2018, and $345 billion in 2019. The 2019 figure was similar to the level it was in 2016, the final year of the Obama administration.

Our ruling

Biden said, "We have a higher deficit with China now than we did before."

The most inclusive measurement, for goods and services, shows that the U.S. trade deficit with China was smaller under Trump in 2019, the most recent full year, than it was in any of the final three years of the Obama administration.

Looking only at goods shows the trade deficit was generally higher under Trump than it was in the Obama years, but it declined in 2019 to around the level as the final year of the Obama administration.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Louis Jacobson

Joe Biden off-base on debate attack over US-China trade deficit

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up