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Lewis Morris / April 24, 2018

Time to Rejoin the TPP?

President Trump may be reconsidering his stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Rumor has it that President Donald Trump may be reconsidering his stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. His suggestion earlier this month that the U.S. would be willing to rejoin the TPP stirred the markets and the international business community. Then the following week, he threw cold water on his own idea by stating that the U.S. would be better off with a series of bilateral agreements with TPP member nations.

So, is Trump for or against the TPP? The answer is yes. It may appear that Trump is equivocating, but whether the U.S. joins or shuns the TPP may not be as simple an issue as portrayed in the media. Besides, part of Trump’s “Art of the Deal” is leaving his negotiating partners/opponents guessing.

If the U.S. were to rejoin the TPP under the same terms as it had originally agreed to in 2016, then it would certainly be a bad deal for America. Barack Obama, who never lost a lot of sleep about putting America’s needs last, agreed to a backroom deal that allowed China to run roughshod over intellectual property rights and gave away American economic advantages to industries in other nations.

This was the reason that Trump pulled out of the TPP shortly after taking office. Unions, trade protectionists and workers who feared even more manufacturing jobs going overseas applauded Trump’s move.

Terms related to intellectual property and the power of the governing body that will regulate the TPP would need to be renegotiated if the U.S. wants back in. Just how flexible member nations will be to making changes remains to be seen. Japan, Australia, New Zealand and others would like to see the U.S. involved as a counterbalance to China. And they’re right; that would be a major benefit. However, faith in America’s intentions have wavered since the 2017 pullout.

It would behoove America to boost its presence in the Pacific. China will readily fill any void the U.S. leaves, and this is certainly true regarding trade. Rejoining the TPP under better, renegotiated terms would be a positive step in that direction, and it would also be a boost to the U.S. economy. It’s not the proposition of a big trade deal that’s bad; it’s Obama’s outworking of it that stunk.

Trump’s desire to negotiate bilateral deals with individual states may not be as good for the U.S. as taking part in a huge Pacific trade bloc. Or those individual deals may be better; it’s hard to predict. In any case, while Trump’s instincts on trade are far from Republican orthodoxy over the last generation, he won because he listened to the forgotten worker who’d suffered because of jobs moving overseas. It won’t be surprising to see him represent those workers with whatever comes of trade policy in the Pacific.

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