Trump is swiftly backtracking on a radical change to his trade policy

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that the US would likely not get back into the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
  • The tweet came five days after Trump told top advisers to look into reentering the deal.
  • Trump originally pulled the US out of the deal in January 2017.
  • The shift proved that the “only thing predictable about Trump is his unpredictability.”

In a matter of days, President Donald Trump’s position on a massive trade deal came full circle and added even more confusion to the already complex global trade environment under his watch.

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that the US would not reenter the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the massive, 11-member trade pact that the president pulled the US out of in January 2017.

“While Japan and South Korea would like us to go back into TPP, I don’t like the deal for the United States,” Trump said. “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 US.”

While South Korea is not part of the TPP, the tweet came after Trump met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It capped off a wild five days in which Trump teased that the US could hop back in the pact.

It all started Thursday, when Republican lawmakers said Trump instructed top economic adviser Larry Kudlow and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to look into reentering the deal.

This statement was itself a stunning turnaround from Trump’s campaign sentiments. Then-candidate Trump called the TPP a “rape of our country” and frequently railed against it on the campaign trail.

But his administration almost immediately began walking back the potential shift.

“Would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama,” Trump tweeted hours after the meeting with lawmakers on Thursday.

Prior to Trump’s meeting with Abe on Tuesday, Kudlow was asked by reporters to clear up the confusion. He said reentry was more a “thought than a policy.”

Another turnaround

Chris Kreuger, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group, said the head-spinning changes from Trump represent the new normal.

“Much like President Trump’s ‘pivots’ on gun control, immigration, ‘Chuck & Nancy’, and multiple other policy 180s, we have come full circle on US entry to the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Kreuger said. “The only thing predictable about Trump is his unpredictability.”

Even on trade, Trump has reversed positions on policy announcement. He eventually granted exemptions to countries he threatened would not receive exemptions from new steel and aluminium tariffs.Many of the US’ closest allies ended up receiving exemptions.

Krueger said the turnaround isn’t just confusing – it could also have a real impact on business behaviour and the global economy. Corporations, especially those that operate on a global scale, value consistency in order to make long-term decisions.

“A central criticism lobbed against President Obama by the GOP was the lack of regulatory consistency and stability for businesses,” Kreuger said. “Trump is taking that volatility global.”

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