President Donald Trump instructed his top advisors to begin exploring how the USA could join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Thursday, just one year after abandoning the trade pact he'd blasted throughout his presidential campaign as a "horrible deal" and a "disaster". Trump is looking for ways to crack down on what he believes are unfair trade practices in China, but he is having a hard time rallying other countries to backstop his push to impose new tariffs or raise the costs of exports and imports for China.
The move runs counter to Trump's repeatedly expressed belief that he prefers "bilateral" trade agreements - between the United States and one other country - to wide-ranging pacts like TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which he has also said should be rewritten or scrapped.
The remarks sent another conciliatory signal the administration has been sending this week on a trade war of words that's rattled markets.
Rejoining the pact would be a major reversal as Trump escalates a trade conflict with China.
Trump gave the new orders to U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow during a meeting with lawmakers and governors on trade issues, according to two GOP senators in attendance.
"In a series of broken promises President Trump made to the working people of this country, rejoining the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership would be the biggest yet".
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"I'm sure there are lots of particulars that they'd want to negotiate, but the president multiple times reaffirmed in general to all of us and looked right at Larry Kudlow and said, 'Larry, go get it done, '" said Sen. He said that's shifting work to competitors outside the US including in Canada and Mexico because they now enjoy a big edge on material costs. The Asian nation said listed USA soybeans and pork among its prime targets for proposed retaliatory duties.
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, which was highly critical of US involvement in a pact it viewed as lowering labor and environmental standards, said Trump's reversal on the issue would signal that the president "cannot be trusted on anything", said Lori Wallach, the group's director.
On Thursday, Trump provided no clues of how the USA would proceed on CPTPP-or on NAFTA.
Last month, the other 11 countries that had originally joined the U.S.in the TPP announced their own agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would offer similar economic benefits but would not include the United States.
In his remarks on Thursday, Trump cited a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping that the USA president interprets as a signal China is about to open its markets to more US goods. They have been pressing Trump to back down from his trade spat with China, which has threatened to raise tariffs on U.S. agricultural products.
Xi pledged a "new phase of opening up" Tuesday in a keynote address to the Boao Forum for Asia. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., told Fox News as he left the White House.