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President Trump can't seem to make up his mind about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, said Natasha Bach at Fortune. Last week, Trump instructed his stunned economic advisers to look into re-entering the Obama-era trade pact with 11 Pacific Rim countries that he had effectively killed his first week in office. Pulling the U.S. out of the TPP was one of Trump's few consistent policy positions on the campaign trail, where he'd repeatedly derided the pact as a "job killer" and a "disaster." But he seemed to be waffling in recent weeks, after hearing complaints from farm-state Republican lawmakers that their constituents were going to suffer from his trade practices. By this week, however, the "brief flirtation" with the TPP appeared over yet again, said Shawn Donnan at the Financial Times. After meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago, Trump tweeted, "While Japan and South Korea would like us to go back into TPP, I don't like the deal for the U.S." That could just be Trump trying to play hardball on new concessions. Whatever the case, now that Trump's "embroiled in an increasingly tense trade standoff with China," which isn't a party to the TPP, he's probably beginning to see the logic of a pact with other Pacific countries.
Even if Trump wants to, rejoining the TPP "won't be easy," said Veronique de Rugy at National Review. When Trump "blew the whole thing up" last year, the remaining 11 nations didn't just slink home empty-handed — they restarted negotiations and last month signed a new deal on their own, minus Washington's hard-won demands on issues like intellectual-property requirements. Even though many of them would ultimately prefer the U.S. in the pact, because they want access to the American market and a balance against China, they have bristled at Trump's suggestion that the U.S. could simply waltz back in, especially bearing new demands. Even if the U.S. gets a seat at the table, "it won't come with the bargaining power and authority that it had the first time around." Trump is proving to be "not a very good global economic chess player," said Z. Byron Wolf at CNN. He spent much of 2016 "railing against both China and the TPP and not realizing that one had everything to do with the other." We've now threatened $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods and Beijing has responded in kind, targeting in particular U.S. agricultural products. American farmers were the constituency that "stood to gain most from the TPP," because it guaranteed markets for their harvests. Alas, Trump "couldn't see a few moves ahead."
Trump could still "end up in the right place" on the TPP, said Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast. He's going to face increasing pressure from Midwestern farmers as the trade war with China heats up, and he could perhaps persuade some TPP countries to lean on their partners to reopen negotiations. We could "scold Trump for being on the wrong side of the issue" or "for changing his mind." But why bother, when he's showing at least some willingness to flip in the right direction? Yes, he may have lost some leverage in the process. But ultimately, the desired outcome — maintaining more markets for U.S. goods and keeping China in check — "is far more important than the process by which he got there."