Andres Oppenheimer

TPP moved on without the U.S. Now Trump wants to rejoin the trade agreement, Peru’s leader says Pence told him

Vice President Mike Pence shakes hands with Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra at the outset of the Summit of the Americas in Lima last week.
Vice President Mike Pence shakes hands with Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra at the outset of the Summit of the Americas in Lima last week. AP

LIMA, Peru — Judging from what Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra told me about his private meeting over the weekend with Vice President Mike Pence during the Summit of the Americas, the Trump administration may be more serious than is generally believed about returning to the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

President Trump made headlines last week when he floated the idea of re-joining the TPP if some changes were made. But many analysts didn’t take Trump’s suggestion seriously, considering the his habit of publicly raising random proposals to divert public attention when he needs or his frequent mixed signals on issues such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But Vizcarra, who hosted the two-day Summit in Lima, with Pence and leaders from almost two dozen Latin American and Caribbean nations in attendance, told me Sunday that the TPP was one of the two top issues on Pence’s agenda during their private meeting on April 14. The other issue was the crisis in Venezuela.

Vizcarra told me that Pence said that, “The United States has seen, with sort of admiration, the fact that TPP has gone forward positively despite the U.S. withdrawal. And that, re-evaluating the situation, they would be keen on participating, for which they will look into the possibility of re-joining.”

Vizcarra’s reaction? “The United States has realized that the current world economy requires to open up markets, and not shutting them down.” He added that, “This attitude would show that they have thought things over, and that if they re-join the agreement as it was initially conceived, it would be a good thing for the world.”

The TPP was originally negotiated by the Obama administration with countries in Asia and Latin America. They include Japan, Singapore, Mexico, Peru and Chile. Australia and Canada, too, are part of TPP. Although President Obama didn’t say so publicly, the deal was conceived to counterbalance China’s growing economic presence in Asia and Latin America.

Trump had lashed out against the TPP during the presidential campaign, claiming that it would cost U.S. jobs. He announced our withdrawal from the deal only three days after taking office in January 2017. But the remaining 11 countries renegotiated parts of the TPP that had been introduced by the United States and signed their own deal, which is now known as the TPP-11.

The TPP-11 trade deal, if ratified by at least six member countries’ congresses, would reduce tariffs in countries that amount to more than 13 percent of the world economy. If the United States re-joined the agreement, it would encompass 40 percent of the global economy.

Trump indicated last week that he would like to rejoin the original TPP if it were “substantially better” than the one negotiated by Obama. My translation: Trump has realized that he has made a big mistake by pulling out from the agreement and, in effect, ceding much of the world’s trade to China.

Contrary to what Trump may have thought when he took office, the world didn’t stop when he withdrew from the TPP. On the contrary, the remaining countries moved forward, and the United States was left increasingly isolated, as China kept gaining ground in trade with Asian and Latin American countries. Hopefully, Trump will now find a face-saving way to re-join the trade agreement, and correct this self-inflicted problem.

Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 8 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera