Fact Check: Biden Falsely Claims the Trade Deficit with China is Higher Now

BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 04: Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands with U.S Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People on December 4, 2013 in Beijing, China. U.S Vice President Joe Biden will pay an official visit to China from December 4 to 5. …
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

CLAIM: “We have a higher deficit with China now than we did before,” Joe Biden said at the debate Tuesday night.

VERDICT: FALSE.

The U.S. trade deficit in goods is on pace to be at its lowest since 2009.

Unfortunately, much of the decline in the trade deficit is not a result of trade policy. It’s been caused, in large part, by the pandemic and the economic disruptions that have lowered U.S. demand for Chinese goods and China’s ability to supply them.

Census Bureau data shows that in the first six months of the year, the U.S. ran a trade deficit with China of around $132 billion. If that keeps up, and it appears that it may, that would put the deficit at $264 billion, the lowest since the year Barack Obama took office during the Great Recession.

But Biden’s comment would likely have been wrong even without the pandemic reducing trade flows. Last year, as the Trump administration raised tariffs on Chinese goods, the trade deficit fell to $345.2 billion from $418 billion the prior year. That is slightly lower than it was in the last year of the Obama-Biden administration and lower than in the first year of the Trump administration, when trade was still being conducted under the terms set by Obama-Biden.

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