WASHINGTON – The United States on Monday completed its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal by officially notifying the 11 other member states.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative sent letters of intent to Japan and other TPP members, with President Donald Trump apparently eager to seek talks with Tokyo on a bilateral free trade agreement when he meets Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Feb. 10 in Washington.
Monday’s action paves the way for the Trump administration to pursue bilateral trade deals that it believes will benefit American workers and industry in line with its “America First” mantra, rather than multilateral ones like the TPP.
“The president will continue to negotiate new, better trade agreements that will bring jobs back, increase American wages and reduce our trade deficit,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a news conference.
Japanese officials have said the government will continue to try to convince Trump of the benefits of the TPP, while not ruling out bilateral trade talks with the U.S.
“We will continue to seek (Trump’s) understanding about the strategic and economic significance of the TPP,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in reference to the Trump administration’s action Monday.
“We think President Trump recognizes the importance of free and fair trade,” the top government spokesman told reporters Tuesday in Tokyo.
If the United States and Japan were to start bilateral trade negotiations, Washington would focus on Japan’s automobile market, which Trump has called unfair.
“The United States does not intend to become a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Accordingly, the United States has no legal obligations arising from its signature on February 4, 2016,” acting U.S. Trade Representative Maria Pagan said in a letter the office of the USTR sent to New Zealand, the TPP’s depositary.
“The United States remains committed to taking measures designed to promote more efficient markets and higher levels of economic growth, both in our country and around the world,” Pagan added.
Trump’s nominee for the post, Robert Lighthizer, has yet to be approved by Congress.
The TPP, in its current form, can only take effect if it is ratified by at least six members that represent 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 members.
Without U.S. ratification, the vast free trade agreement would effectively be dead because the United States alone accounts for 60 percent of the group’s total GDP.
Trump has slammed the TPP, which the 12 nations signed in February last year, saying it would cost U.S. jobs and harm American manufacturing.
The pact, which does not involve China, was championed by Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama.