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Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu January 23, 2017

Trump orders TPP withdrawal

President Donald Trump signed a presidential memoranda officially directing the United States to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, making good on a signature if not symbolic campaign promise.

Signed on his first full weekday in office, Trump called the memorandum "a great thing for the American worker" in an Oval Office ceremony on Jan. 23, 2017.

The memorandum, sent to the U.S. Trade Representative, reads:

"By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct you to withdraw the United States as a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to permanently withdraw the United States from TPP negotiations, and to begin pursuing, wherever possible, bilateral trade negotiations to promote American industry, protect American workers, and raise American wages.

"You are directed to provide written notification to the Parties and to the Depository of the TPP, as appropriate, that the United States withdraws as a signatory of the TPP and withdraws from the TPP negotiating process."

Even before he jumped into the presidential race, Trump railed against the free trade deal between the United States and 11 Asian-Pacific countries, and vigorously opposed it throughout the election. White House press secretary Sean Spicer reiterated Trump's opposition in a press conference that afternoon, criticizing multilateral deals for lacking teeth and appealing to the "lowest common denominator."

There is little difference between presidential memoranda and executive orders, except presidential memoranda are public only when the president determines them to have "general applicability and legal effect," according to the Congressional Research Service.

Presidents have a lot of discretion to choose which directive to take. The important part "is following up on the actions taken (or not taken) by the USTR in light of this directive," said Kenneth Lowande, a postdoctoral fellow of political science at Washington University in St. Louis.

The TPP, negotiated by former President Barack Obama, had yet to be ratified by Congress and was unlikely to be. Trump's withdrawal is a largely symbolic move but underscores the new administration's very different outlook on global trade.

"I think it's symbolic, both here in America and around the world, of a new era of trade policy, one that's going to put American workers first and foremost, and one that assures the rest of the world that the way that we negotiate bilateral agreements is going to ensure that we get something out of these deals," Spicer said in the press conference.

The order also aligns Trump with some congressional Democrats, more so than Republicans. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, called the withdrawal a "serious mistake" and other conservatives lamented the move. Democratic lawmakers praised the order.

Because the TPP had never been approved by Congress, Trump's withdrawal will lead to no immediate economic effects. But experts warned that the move would embolden China. Beijing is not part of the TPP, but has indicated that it will seek a similar deal if the U.S.-negotiated agreement fell apart.

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted that TPP withdrawal will "will slow US eco growth, cost American jobs, & weaken US standing in Asia/world. China could well be principal beneficiary."

Michael McFaul, a professor of international studies at Stanford University and a former U.S. ambassador to Russia under Obama, said Trump "just handed China a giant victory" while he could have just negotiated a better deal.

Spicer downplayed these fears, noting China typically signs bilateral deals and said the administration will seek to strengthen existing bilateral deals with TPP partners or negotiate new ones.

Public Citizen, a liberal consumer rights advocacy group, said in a press release that Trump's memorandum formally "buries the moldering corpse of a deal that couldn't gain majority support in Congress" but urged Trump to seek a new trade policy to protect the environment and workers at home and abroad.

The group also noted that many Republicans and senior Trump officials "passionately support the very agreements Trump opposes."

Trump has also promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement or withdraw from it — a pledge we're tracking here. Pulling out of this 20-year-old deal would have more significant economic repercussions.   

Because Trump's pledge specified issuing a notification of intent to withdraw, we rate this a Promise Kept.

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