White House Explains Trump’s Reversal on TPP

April 12, 2018, 10:27 PM UTC

President Trump had asked two of his economic advisers to explore rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement he withdrew from shortly after taking office last year.

“Last year, the President kept his promise to end the TPP deal negotiated by the Obama Administration because it was unfair to American workers and farmers,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement Thursday. “The President has consistently said he would be open to a substantially better deal, including in his speech in Davos earlier this year. To that end, he has asked Amb. Lighthizer [who is U.S. Trade Representative] and [National Economic Council] Director Kudlow to take another look at whether or not a better deal could be negotiated.”

Earlier in the day, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse had told reporters that Trump was reconsidering the withdrawal from the trade agreement, which Obama Administration had negotiated with 11 other Pacific Rim countries to promote free trade by reducing barriers between them. “The President multiple times reaffirmed in general to all of us, and looked at Larry Kudlow, and said Larry go get it done,” Sasse said after exiting a White House meeting with the President about trade and agriculture that he attended with several governors and congressional leaders who represent states that they say will be adversely impacted by the President’s recently announced tariffs.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who also attended the meeting, said afterwards that she had urged the President to reconsider negotiating the TPP because of concerns by constituents about the tariffs. “I’m so pleased that the President asked his administration to reengage in these discussions with other TPP countries, and is continuing his work to negotiate a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) deal. There is a growing demand for U.S. agricultural products around the world, and American farmers and manufacturers should be able to compete in these markets,” Ernst said in a statement.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the TPP was among his first actions after he was inaugurated in 2017. During the campaign, he had criticized the agreement, calling it a product of the special interests that was a “continuing rape” of the country.

But the White House downplayed this latest reversal, pointing to Trump’s remarks in Davos, Switzerland in January, where he stressed the need for trade agreements. “As I have said, the United States is prepared to negotiate mutually beneficial, bilateral trade agreements with all countries. This will include the countries in TPP, which are very important. We have agreements with several of them already. We would consider negotiating with the rest, either individually, or perhaps as a group, if it is in the interests of all,” Trump said at Davos.