The Trump administration has made trade deficits the yardstick for measuring the success of trade deals, but that's a miscalculation, analysts said.
President Donald Trump has applied labels such as a "disaster" and "horrible" to various U.S. trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, known as Korus.
Trump says what proves those deals are so horrible is that the U.S. has trade deficits, meaning it imports more from some trade partners than it exports to those nations.
"The United States has trade deficits with many, many countries, and we cannot allow that to continue," Trump said in June in a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
But analysts have said trade deficits, especially with a focus on manufactured goods, don't offer much as an indication of a pact's benefits. As it currently stands, the measurement of trade disparities is often separated into goods and services categories, with the U.S. administration prioritizing goods.
Yet despite the White House focus on deficits as evidence of deals' failures, some large trade imbalances can't even be tied to any pacts.
"Take China, for example, which is the country with which we have the largest trade deficit — over $300 billion. We don't even have a trade agreement with China," said Miriam Sapiro, the deputy U.S. trade representative during the Obama administration who also served in the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations.