Nations Don't Trade With Each Other: Individuals Do
[T]he United States did NOT import $2.74 billion of steel pipe from China, at least not as a "country." It was dozens, if not hundreds, of American-owned companies that voluntarily placed hundreds, if not thousands, of individual purchase orders in 2008 to purchase Chinese steel from dozens, if not hundreds, of steel-producing companies in China who filled the orders totaling $2.72 billion, and shipped the steel...Read the whole post.
It might be a subtle point, but it's important to realize that countries don't trade with each other as countries - rather it's individual consumers and individual companies that are doing the buying and selling...
It's possible that some of the confusion about international trade can be traced to confusion about the "trade deficit" and the "budget deficit." The relevant unit of analysis for the budget deficit is indeed the country, since it's the entire country via elected officials that is responsible for the "budget deficit." By conflating these two distinctly different deficits, it's then easy to assume that the relevant unit of analysis for both is the "country" when in fact that only applies to the "budget deficit" and not the "trade deficit."