Ministers from Japan, Australia and Malaysia welcomed President Donald Trump directing officials to explore returning to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact he withdrew from shortly after coming to office. But they also cautioned against making any significant changes.
“We welcome the U.S. coming back to the table but I don’t see any wholesale appetite for any material re-negotiation of the TPP-11,” Australia Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said Friday.
In a Twitter post on Thursday night, Trump said the U.S. “would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama. We already have BILATERAL deals with six of the eleven nations in TPP, and are working to make a deal with the biggest of those nations, Japan, who has hit us hard on trade for years!”
Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord during his first week in office. The pact, which was conceived as a counterweight to China’s rising economic power in the region, had been negotiated under the Obama administration but never approved by Congress.
Senator Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican who participated in a meeting with Trump on Thursday where he spoke about rejoining the deal, said: “He multiple times reaffirmed the point that TPP might be easier to join now.”
The 11 remaining nations represent 13 percent of global output and include Japan and Canada. They finalized a revised version of the trade pact last month, renaming it the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership or CPTPP.
One of the White House officials said that while the president prefers negotiating bilateral trade deals, a multilateral deal with the TPP countries would counter Chinese competition and would be faster than negotiating one-on-one with each of the 11 other nations.