Donald Trump has made his tariffs against China and other countries a big part of his agenda as president. He even went so far as to dub himself “Tariff Man” on Twitter.
The media have been quick to assume that Tariff Man is accomplishing his goals, especially with regard to China. It is standard for news articles, like this one, to assert that China’s economy is suffering in large part because of Trump’s tariffs.
In fact, through the first ten months of 2018 China’s trade surplus with the United States on trade in goods has been $344.5 billion. This is up 11.5 percent from its surplus in the same months last year.
The tariffs surely are having some effect, and China’s surplus would almost certainly be larger if they were not in place. But it is difficult to believe that China’s $13.5 trillion dollar economy (measured at exchange rate values) could be hurt all that all that much by somewhat slower growth in its trade surplus with the United States. (For arithmetic fans, the surplus is equal to 2.5 percent of China’s GDP. We are talking about slower growth in this surplus.)
It is worth noting that we will not be getting new trade data until the government shutdown is over since the Census Bureau is one of the government agencies without funding for fiscal year 2019.
This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.