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"As trade tensions with China escalate, President Trump has found new appeal in a regional trade pact he once called a “rape of our country.” The pact’s members — including some of America’s most stalwart allies — might not make it so easy to come back. Officials in Japan, Australia and New Zealand reacted coolly on Friday to Mr. Trump’s remarks that he would be interested in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership after rejecting it so publicly just a year ago. While the United States would significantly bolster the pact if it signed up, its entry would require intense negotiations — and current members will expect significant concessions from the American side. Comparing the multicountry trade agreement to “a glasswork,” Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, cautioned against any efforts to change it to accommodate Mr. Trump. “It’s difficult to bring part of the pact and renegotiate it,” he said, calling it a “well-balanced pact” that carefully addressed the needs of the current 11 member nations. “We’ve got a deal” already, said Steven Ciobo, Australia’s trade minister, who added, “I can’t see that all being thrown open to appease the United States.” An early test of the potential for the United States to rejoin could come as soon as next week, when Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister and an ardent champion of the pact, is to meet with Mr. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. Mr. Trump’s renewed interest in the pact depends on whether the United States could strike a better deal than President Barack Obama did, Mr. Trump said in a Thursday night tweet. Still, negotiations with a group of longtime trading partners could hold appeal at a time of increasing tensions with China...Negotiating a new pact could take years. Still, rekindling negotiations could make it hard for China to play off the United States against its allies by promising to shift business from one to another if a trade war breaks out. It could be a way to assuage American farmers and businesses hurt by Chinese tariffs by assuring robust markets for American products in countries that signed onto the deal, like Japan, Australia and South Korea. It would give the pact a great deal more heft and help position it as an economic counterweight to China, which increasingly dominates the Asia-Pacific region...Sheila A. Smith, a Japan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said the Trump administration may have realized that it does not have the leverage it thought to renegotiate a new trade deal with Japan, and that embracing the regional pact may be the best fallback."

Posted April 13th, 2018
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