Trump's trade policies backfire, leave U.S. more isolated

Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, pauses while speaking during The Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa on July 18, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)
Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, pauses while speaking during The Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa on July 18, 2015.

On Donald Trump's third day as president, he announced the formal demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which the Republican president claimed to hate for reasons he struggled to explain. By all appearances, Trump had no idea what the TPP was or what it entailed, but he was nevertheless certain he didn't like it.

In January, the president assured Americans he'd replace the TPP with a "beautiful" alternative. It's now mid-November and we've seen no such policy.

The issue, however, remains on his mind. A week ago, for example, Trump was in Tokyo, speaking to Japanese business leaders, many of whom backed the TPP. "We will have more trade than anybody ever thought of under TPP, that I can tell you," the American president promised. "TPP was not the right idea. Probably some of you in this room disagree, but ultimately I'll be proven to be right."

The proof actually suggests he's more confused than accurate. As Trump's Asia-Pacific tour continues, his White House has some specific trade benefits in mind, each of which were already part of the TPP that this administration helped kill.

Making matters worse, as the New York Times reported, our former negotiating partners are moving on without us.

A group of 11 countries announced on Saturday that they had committed to resurrecting a sweeping multinational trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, without the United States. A new deal, which would have to be signed and ratified by each country, would include major United States allies like Japan, Canada and Mexico. Collectively, they account for about a sixth of global trade.The agreement will "serve as a foundation for building a broader free-trade area" across Asia, Taro Kono, Japan's foreign minister, said in a statement.

As the Washington Post's report explained, "The decision to move ahead with the TPP agreement, minus the United States, reflects how Trump's decision to withdraw from the deal created a vacuum other nations are now moving to fill, with or without the president."

It's worth emphasizing that this new trade alliance, clumsily called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, isn't yet a done deal. The participating countries -- our former TPP partners -- have agreed to a framework, but there are sill details to be negotiated.

The point, however, is that the United States will not be a party to those talks because Donald Trump abandoned the work that had already been done by his predecessor.

A FiveThirtyEight piece, noting that the Republican's plans "backfired," explained, "Japan, the world's third-biggest economy, has assumed the leadership role. Canada, initially a reluctant member of the club, volunteered to host one of the first post-Trump meetings of the remaining TPP countries to work on a way forward -- perhaps because research shows that Canadians will do better if they have preferential access that their American cousins lack. Smaller, poorer countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia wanted freer trade with the U.S. but agreed to consider improved access to countries such as Australia, Canada and Japan as a consolation prize for years of hard bargaining."

For his part, Trump said late yesterday he'll make a "major" trade announcement next week. "We've made some very big steps with respect to trade, far bigger than anything you know," he said.

These boasts, more often than not, turn out to be meaningless, but it's something to keep an eye on.