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Trump Backtracks on TPP Re-entry, Again

As quickly as it blew in, President Trump’s seemingly TPP-friendly mood has gone again.

On Thursday, Trump directed his top trade advisors to look at negotiating a U.S. reentry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership—which now officially goes by the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), having already been signed by 11 member nations left standing after U.S. withdrawal last January.

Turning to his platform of choice late Tuesday, however, the president said on Twitter, “While Japan and South Korea would like us to go back into TPP, I don’t like the deal for the United States. Too many contingencies and no way to get out if it doesn’t work. Bilateral deals are far more efficient, profitable and better for OUR workers. Look how bad WTO is to U.S.”

It wasn’t made clear why Trump mentioned South Korea in the tweet, considering the country has not been part of the TPP agreement, but the tweet came on the heels of a meeting with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. Some have suggested Trump may have alluded to the U.S. wriggling its way back into the deal, looking for a renegotiation to get there, and Japan—as well as other TPP member nations Australia and New Zealand—made clear last week that they weren’t interested in a wholesale renegotiation of a deal that’s already been settled.

Further to his preference for bilateral trade deals over their multilateral counterparts, Trump has been pushing Japan for a partnership on trade.

Trump said in an April 12 tweet about TPP, “…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!”

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Japan has appeared less keen on engaging with the U.S. on trade. The country’s finance minister Taro Aso told reporters in Tokyo late last month that Japan doesn’t want to engage in bilateral trade talks with the U.S. that are tied up in tariff volleys and trade deficits.

For now, however, it looks like the U.S. won’t be engaging with Japan on a multilateral trade level either as the TPP is back on the bench at present.

In remarks following Trump’s latest TPP tweet, National Economic Council chief Larry Kudlow, one trade leader tasked with looking into a U.S. reentry to TPP over the last handful of days, said the idea of rejoining the agreement was “more of a thought than a policy.”

The predictable unpredictability of Trump’s policies on trade has done more than tarnish U.S. relations, it has also left U.S. companies stuck for a way forward, and upset supply chains as brands and retailers look for what they hope will be more stable sources for product.