President Trump ordered top administration officials Thursday to look at rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major shift on the sprawling multination #trade pact he rejected just days after taking office.
Rejoining the pact would come as Trump escalates a trade conflict with #China. The Pacific Rim trade deal was intended to counter China’s influence, but Trump criticized the pact as a candidate and pulled the United States out of it in one of his earliest moves as president.
Trump gave the new orders to U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow during a White House meeting with lawmakers and governors, according to several GOP senators in attendance.
Trump then told Lighthizer and Kudlow to “take a look at getting us back into that agreement, on our terms of course,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). “He was very I would say bullish about that.”
Thune said he and others at the table argued that “if you really want to get China’s attention, one way to do it is start doing business with all the people they’re doing business with in the region: their competitors.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) also witnessed and applauded Trump’s surprise move.
“We should be leading TPP,” Sasse said. “China is a bunch of cheaters and the best way to push back on their cheating would be to be leading all these other rule-of-law nations in the Pacific that would rather be aligned with the U.S. than with China.”
Trump has repeatedly floated major policy proposals in meetings and then quickly abandoned them. It remains to be seen if his comments Thursday represent plans to seriously explore rejoining TPP, and some free trade supporters approached his remarks with skepticism.