Saturday, Aug 18, 2018
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Going back to TPP

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President Donald Trump walks down the stairs of Air Force One during his arrival at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Fla. on Thursday.

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One of Donald Trump’s most popular campaign pledges was his promise to rip up the trade deals that put American industry at a disadvantage. And in the earliest days of his administration, Mr. Trump started by backing away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership that he and many of his supporters saw as one of the most egregious offenders.

But now Mr. Trump is signaling that he might be willing to return the United States to the TPP. Doing so would be a good move both in the short and long term for the country’s trade objectives.

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Originally negotiated under the Obama administration the 11-nation TPP deal became the target of Mr. Trump and others fed up with China’s unfair trade dealings and theft of American intellectual property. Despite numerous pacts, no trade deals the U.S. cut with China had addressed the problems that put American industry at a disadvantage, so it was better, Mr. Trump argued, to walk away.

Now, the Trump administration’s plans for steel and aluminum tariffs have changed the global trade game. The president has been able to leverage the tariffs to negotiate a new, more favorable deal with South Korea even as China complains to the World Trade Organization.

Mr. Trump first hinted at Davos early this year and then again last week that he would reconsider the TPP agreement if it were more favorable to the United States. Mr. Trump then changed course once more, declaring that he did not like the looks of the deal. But the president should hold his options open.

Rejoining the pact may not be easy, but it would benefit the United States in several ways. First, participating in TPP would help many of the same domestic industries worried they will be damaged by the steel tariff package, including agriculture and auto-makers. Second, returning to the group would reassert U.S. influence on trade in the region rather than conceding leadership in the Pacific to China.

To strike better, more fair trade deals, the United States is going to have to sit down at the table with its trading partners. Reclaiming a chair at the TPP table would be an important step in pushing back against the unfair deals Americans expect Mr. Trump to rectify.

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