- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2018

President Trump’s flirtation with the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal lasted one week.

After trade talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr. Trump said Wednesday night that reports of his plans to rejoin the TPP were wrong.

“I don’t want to go back into TPP,” Mr. Trump said at a press conference. “But if they offered us a deal that I can’t refuse, on behalf of the United States, I would do it.”

On April 12, during a meeting with farm-state lawmakers and governors at the White House, the president directed his top trade officials to explore rejoining the Obama administration’s 12-nation trade deal that Mr. Trump had pulled out of in 2017.

Lawmakers eager to avoid a tariff feud with China announced the move to the media before they even left the White House grounds.

But on Wednesday night, the president said he’s more interested in a bilateral trade deal with Japan.

SEE ALSO: Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, hopes Donald Trump rethinks trade stance

Mr. Abe said those negotiations have begun. But the prime minister didn’t sound very optimistic.

“On the U.S. side, that they are interested in a bilateral deal, we are aware of that,” the prime minister said. “Our country’s position is that TPP is the best for both of the countries. And based on that position, we shall be dealing with the talks.”

Whether or not the U.S. reaches a formal trade agreement with Japan, Mr. Trump might succeed in reducing the roughly $70 billion trade deficit with Tokyo. He has imposed tariffs on Japanese steel and aluminum, and said he’s willing to discuss lifting those tariffs in exchange for more robust trading with Japan.

Mr. Abe said Japan is willing to purchase more U.S. products such as aircraft, and Japanese companies are stepping up their investments in the U.S. due to the tax reform law.

“In order to benefit both Japan and the U.S., we’ll further expand trade and investment between the two countries,” the prime minister said.

The president said Japan’s actions on trade “will help with the process of equalization” of the trade deficit.

“They’re ordering large numbers of airplanes — both jet fighters and passenger planes — and it’s in the tens of billions of dollars,” Mr. Trump said.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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