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Trump Mentions, Then Backtracks on Potential U.S. Re-entry into TPP

Just days after directing senior officials to review whether the United States should re-join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Trump said he does not think the agreement is good for the United States. Trump withdrew from the TPP in January 2017 but has said several times this year that he might reconsider if the United States could achieve a better agreement. It is not uncommon for the president to change his stance on a trade matter fairly abruptly especially if he believes such a change could potentially improve the overall negotiating position of the United States.

After meeting with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on 17 April, Trump said in a Twitter post that Tokyo wants to see the United States back in the TPP, which was signed earlier this year by the 11 remaining participants. However, he added that he “[doesn’t] like the deal for the United States” because there are “too many contingencies” and “no way to get out of it if it doesn’t work.” However, a Politico article noted that the TPP includes “a withdrawal process similar to what is in NAFTA.” Trump said earlier this year that he would reconsider U.S. participation if he was “able to make a substantially better deal.”

In remarks to reporters, National Economic Council chief Larry Kudlow added that the idea of the United States re-joining the TPP is “more of a thought than a policy” at the moment and that the Trump administration is in the “pre-preliminary stages of any discussion at all.” “If we choose to go down that path, however, to ‘improve it,’ we will have to be convinced that it’s worth our while,” an Inside US Trade article quoted Kudlow as saying. “And I don’t think the president is yet convinced of that.” While some have speculated that Trump’s renewed interest in the TPP is related to his accelerating efforts to rebalance the U.S. trade relationship with mainland China, Kudlow told reporters on 17 April that the two issues are not linked.  

Trump’s post reiterated his preference for bi-lateral trade agreements, which he said are “far more efficient, profitable, and better for OUR workers.” In a separate post he noted that the United States already has bi-lateral FTAs with six of the other TPP members. He also said the United States is “working to make a deal with the biggest of those nations, Japan,” but Japanese officials have consistently shown little interest in such an arrangement.

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