In a striking reversal, U.S. President Donald Trump has asked trade officials to explore the possibility of the United States rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, a free trade deal he pulled out of during his first days in office as part of his “America first” agenda. Trump’s request comes as he faces pressure from farm-state Republicans anxious that his protectionist trade policies could spiral into a trade war with China that would hit rural America. It was not immediately clear how committed Trump was to embarking on a new path of potentially thorny negotiations. Trump frequently equivocates on policy when faced with opposition, only to reverse course later. It’s unclear how willing the other 11 countries would be to reopen the agreement and make concessions to lure the United States back.
“If the Trump administration doesn’t pose too many demands, it is likely that the other TPP members will see the value of the bringing the U.S. back into the fold,” said Eswar Prasad, Cornell University professor of trade policy. “Undoubtedly, a TPP that includes the U.S. would be stronger and more formidable than one that does not.” Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been renewing their pitches for TPP — rather than Trump’s threats of steep tariffs on steel and other products — as a way to counter China on trade. Sen. Ron Johnson was among a handful of senators who recently visited China to meet with government and business leaders there. He said it’s time to work with a coalition of trading partners to increase pressure on China.