A Timeline: Trump’s Various Stances on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal

Apr 19 2018
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump meet press during talks held at Mar-a-Lago on April 17. Abe pressed Trump to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership. | Photo by White House via YouTube

Just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in. Maybe.

President Donald Trump made waves on the first full workday of his presidency by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Now, it appears that Trump may wish to re-enter the deal, although the value of doing so is questionable if its terms are not re-negotiated (more on that in a bit).

We put together a helpful timeline to chronicle The Donald's many stances on the trade deal, which we hope you find useful as you follow the TPP debate.

April 22, 2015

Trump criticizes the TPP in a multi-part tweetstorm, panning its insufficient currency manipulation enforcement as detrimental to the American workers.

June 28, 2016  

Trump’s trade rhetoric throughout his presidential campaign consistently criticizes the TPP, with the candidate calling it the “death blow for America manufacturing” on June 28, 2016 in a campaign speech. The Republican presidential nominee tells supporters in Monessen, Pa.:

"The TPP would be the death blow for American manufacturing … It would further open our markets to aggressive currency cheaters. It would make it easier for our trading competitors to ship cheap subsidized goods into U.S. markets – while allowing foreign countries to continue putting barriers in front of our exports."

Later that day, Trump draws controversy when he says in a speech in Clairsville, Ohio that the "Trans-Pacific Partnership is another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country — just a continuing rape of our country."

January 23, 2017

Newly sworn-in, President Trump signs an executive order withdrawing the United States from the TPP, although it's worth pointing out that Congress was unlikely to have passed it. The issue seems settled, until…

January 25, 2018

…almost exactly one year later, when Trump states that he would consider rejoining the TPP if it were made a “substantially better” agreement for the United States. Trump tells CNBC during an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:

"I would do TPP if we were able to make a substantially better deal. The deal was terrible, the way it was structured was terrible. If we did a substantially better deal, I would be open to TPP."

April 12, 2018

Trump sends shockwaves through Washington when he asks Chief Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to explore re-entering the TPP, but reiterates his preference for bilateral trade deals in a tweet posted later in the evening.

April 17, 2018

Reiterating his preference for bilateral trade deals, Trump tweets that the TPP would not as effectively address trade concerns. 

April 18, 2018

In a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, held during Abe’s visit to Mar-a-Lago, Fla.,Trump states that he is “committed to pursuing a bilateral trading relationship that benefits both of our great countries.” Trump says:

"We’re also working to improve our economic partnership by reducing our trade imbalance and removing barriers to U.S. exports.  The United States is committed to free, fair, and reciprocal — very important word — trade.  And we’re committed to pursuing a bilateral trading relationship that benefits both of our great countries."

Trump's preference for a bilateral agreement is notable, as Abe had pressed him to rejoin the TPP. In any case, the two countries agreed to hold additional talks on trade issues. 

If Trump chooses to proceed exploring re-entering the TPP, he has the opportunity to improve the deal to level the playing field for workers in America. The original TPP did little to address the following concerns:

  • Currency manipulation was largely overlooked in the TPP, which failed to offer any enforceable provisions for this ploy to artificially boost exports.
  • The TPP’s rules of origin were riddled with a multitude of exemptions and exclusions that undermined its efficacy and offered opportunities for countries outside the TPP, like China, to evade tariffs in delivering goods to TPP countries.
  • State-owned enterprises (SOEs), businesses that benefit from substantial financial support from their parent states, have an unquestionably unfair advantage over businesses that must compete in a free market. Although China’s steel industry offers examples of notorious SOEs, TPP included other SOE countries, such as Vietnam and Malaysia, that could disrupt fair trade.    

It’s unclear whether Trump will pursue re-joining the TPP or adhere to a bilateral deal, but workers and manufacturers deserve to be thought of first and foremost in all trade negotiations.