The US may have missed its chance to rejoin the TPP

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President Donald Trump walks down the stairs of Air Force One during his arrival at Palm Beach International Airport, in West Palm Beach, Fla.,Thursday, March 29, 2018. Trump is spending the weekend at his his Mar-a-Lago estate. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Donald Trump wants to take another look at the huge Pacific trade deal that he yanked the United States out of last year — but getting the world’s largest economy back in would be tough.

The 11 countries Trump left in the lurch when he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership just days after taking office have forged ahead with a new agreement without the United States.

Trump asked his top trade and economic advisers on Thursday to investigate “whether or not a better deal could be negotiated,” the White House said.

During his election campaign, Trump slammed the TPP as a “disaster.” Pulling out of it fulfilled a key campaign promise. So why the apparent change of heart?

The China factor

Experts say trade tension with China is a big factor. Spearheaded by the Obama administration, the original TPP deal was seen as a way of creating a Pacific counterweight to China’s rising economic clout. Beijing is not in the TPP, but some supporters of the pact said it could encourage China to change its behavior on trade.

“I think this is part of the administration’s growing awareness that bilateral pressure on China is unlikely to get the job done on its own,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in trade and economics. “The TPP was a source of leverage against China, but President Trump simply didn’t listen to those who were making that case before he pulled the plug.”

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