Trump Pitches ‘America First’ Trade Policy at Asia-Pacific Summit



(New York Times)


President Trump on Friday pitched a go-it-alone, “America First” trade policy to a gathering of nations that once pinned their economic hopes on a regional pact led by the United States, vowing to protect American interests against foreign exploitation.

“We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” Mr. Trump told a gathering of leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Danang, Vietnam. “I am always going to put America first, the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first.”

Promising to pursue “mutually beneficial commerce” through bilateral trade agreements, Mr. Trump roundly condemned the kind of multilateral accords pursued by his predecessors, reprising a message he brought to China this week that blamed weak American leadership for trade imbalances that he said have stripped jobs, factories and entire industries from the United States.

“What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible,” Mr. Trump said.

It was a strikingly hostile message to an audience that included leaders who had tied their fortunes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping 12-nation accord that was to be led by the United States, from which Mr. Trump 

And it indicated the degree to which, under Mr. Trump, the United States — once a dominant voice guiding the discussions about trade at gatherings such as APEC — has ceded that role. Even as he was railing against multilateral approaches, the remaining 11 countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership were negotiating intensively to seal the agreement. Under the terms being discussed, the United States could re-enter the pact in the future if a new president reversed Mr. Trump’s course.

Mr. Trump, though, spoke witheringly about an approach he said had led the United States to lower its own trade barriers only to have other countries refuse to do so, and he accused the World Trade Organization of treating the United States unfairly.

Many of the president’s toughest lines — his vow to fight the “audacious theft” of intellectual property from American companies and the forced transfer of technology to foreign firms — were aimed at China.

But Mr. Trump avoided criticizing China’s president, Xi Jinping, personally. And he repeated his contention that he did not blame China, or any other country, for taking advantage of what he called weak American trade laws.

“If their representatives are able to get away with it, they are just doing their jobs,” the president said. “I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it. They did not, but I will.”

White House officials had framed Mr. Trump’s speech as a chance to articulate the theme of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region, which the Trump administration has adopted as its answer to President Barack Obama’s Asia pivot. First proposed by the Japanese, it envisions the United States strengthening ties with three other democracies in the region — Japan, Australia and India — in part to counter a rising China. But the president offered little detail about that approach.

He spoke of the need for freedom of navigation — a reference to the South China Sea, which Vietnam, Malaysia and other countries complain that China is turning into a private waterway. But the president stopped short of calling out China by name.

He also did not fault China or his host, Vietnam, for their checkered human rights records, even as he offered a general endorsement of the rule of law and individual rights.

As the president arrived in Danang, the White House announced that he would not hold formal talks with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on the sidelines of the APEC summit meeting, as he had said he expected to discuss ways in which Moscow could help counter the threat from North Korea. Officials cited scheduling issues as the reason the two leaders would not meet, but on Thursday, Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, had said that a conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin was “still under consideration” and that a final decision would hinge on whether there was “sufficient substance” to warrant face-to-face talks.

The White House did not entirely rule out a discussion, however.

“Are they going to bump into each other and say hello?” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters traveling with Mr. Trump as Air Force One was landing in Danang. “Certainly possible and likely. But in terms of a scheduled, formal meeting, there’s not one on the calendar, and we don’t anticipate that there will be one.”