President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered his top economic and trade advisers to look into rejoining the Pacific Rim trade pact that he abandoned last year three days after taking power.
Farm-state lawmakers said after a White House meeting on agricultural trade that Trump told his economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to weigh the benefits of re-entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a deal struck by the Obama administration.
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.”
Sasse represents a Midwestern farm state. He called Trump’s change of mind on the Pacific trade deal “good news.” He said the president has consistently “reaffirmed the idea that TPP would be easier for us to join now.”
Early Friday, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said he would welcome a move by the United States to rejoin the TPP.
Aso, speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, also said that he expected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump to discuss TPP at their summit meeting next week.
Trump has often said he prefers bilateral trade deals instead of multinational pacts, believing the U.S. does not fare well in bigger trade deals. It was not immediately clear why he now is open to rejoining the TPP.
Trump said throughout his presidential campaign “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country, just a continuing rape of our country. That’s what it is, too. It’s a harsh word: It’s a rape of our country.”
During opening statements at Thursday’s meeting before he shooed out reporters, Trump assured the lawmakers that he intends to negotiate better trade deals for the American farmer in the face of threatened new Chinese tariffs and contentious negotiations 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.”
Trump 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.
Administration officials have said China and the United States can negotiate their differences and avoid a trade war.
Trump said Thursday “we’re having some great discussions” with China and that he believes the outcome will be “tariffs off and the barriers down.”
But a spokesman for China’s commerce ministry said the United States is not showing any sincerity and that China will not hesitate to fight back if the U.S. escalates trade tensions.
VOA’s Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from Reuters.