U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered his top economic and trade advisers to look into rejoining the Pacific-rim trade pact with 11 other countries that he abandoned last year three days after he assumed power.
Farm-state lawmakers, after attending a White House meeting on agricultural trade, said Trump told his new economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to weigh the benefits of re-entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership that had been negotiated by the administration of former President Barack Obama.
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican critic of Trump’s trade policies, said that at one point in the meeting, the president turned to Kudlow and said, “Larry, go get it done.” Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts confirmed Trump’s directive.
Sasse, who represents a Midwestern farm state, called Trump’s change of mind on the Pacific trade deal “good news.”
“The best thing the United States can do is push back against Chinese cheating now is to lead the other 11 Pacific nations that believe in free trade and the rule of law,” Sasse said.
Sasse acknowledged that rejoining the TPP is “a deliberative process and the president is somebody who likes to blue sky a lot.” But Sasse said Trump “multiple times reaffirmed the idea that TPP would be easier for us to join now.”
Trump has often stated his preference for bilateral trade deals, the United States with one other country, rather than multinational pacts, in the belief that the United States does not fare well in bigger trade deals. It was not immediately clear why he now is open to rejoining the TPP.
After the U.S. dropped out of the Pacific-rim deal — one that did not include China, the world’s second biggest economy after the U.S. — the 11 remaining countries formed their own pact, signing a deal last month called the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.
During opening statements at the meeting before Trump shooed out reporters, he assured the lawmakers that he intends to negotiate better trade deals for the American farmer in the face of threatened new Chinese tariffs and as contentious negotiations evolve with Canada and Mexico.
“It’ll be very good when we get it all finished,” Trump said. “The farmers will do fantastically well. Agriculture will be taken care of 100 percent.”
The U.S. leader contended that “China has consistently treated the American farmer very poorly,” noting that Beijing had until last year blocked U.S. beef sales for 14 years.
Now, in response to Trump’s announced intention to impose new or higher tariffs on $150 billion worth of Chinese imports, China says it will impose new levies on an array of U.S. exports, including wheat, soybeans, corn, cranberries and orange juice, raising fears among U.S. farmers that their livelihoods are threatened.