More than a year after he withdrew the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership, it seems Donald Trump could be interested in rejoining. Japan tentatively welcomed the move, but stressed the trade deal was "delicate."
Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso was cautiously optimistic Friday about US President Donald Trump's newfound openness to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.
"If it's true, I would welcome it," Aso told reporters after a cabinet meeting. "(Trump) is a person who could change temperamentally, so he may say something different the next day."
Read more: America first, Japan second
But hours after Aso's remarks, Trump tweeted that the US "would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better" than the previous deal hammered out by former US President Barack Obama's administration.
Aso noted that he expects Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to further discuss the matter at a summit next week, during which he is expected to meet with Trump.
One of Trump's first actions in office was to withdraw the US from the TPP, a move considered by analysts as a strategic favor to China. Since the US withdrawal, Beijing has sought to leverage its economic prowess by seeking trade deals with TPP nations.
Observers believe Trump's newfound interest may have arisen from a desire to strengthen the US position in a growing trade spat with China. In the aftermath of Trump's withdrawal, Australia — one of 11 other TPP countries — signaled the possible inclusion of China.
"After the US withdrawal, Japan — recognizing the significance of free trade — has led the initiative in pulling together the TPP 11," Aso said. "Our efforts have borne fruit if the United States judged it would be better to rejoin."
In the US, the TPP has received a mixed response, even at times prompting protests in cities across the country
Trump's apparent U-turn comes amid fears his "America First" protectionist policies could result in a trade war with China that would damage American agriculture.
White House officials have attempted to shield the president from criticism, saying he wants to see if the US can get a "better deal."
"Last year, the president kept his promise to end the TPP deal … because it was unfair to American workers and farmers," said Lindsay Walters, deputy White House press secretary.
"(Trump) has consistently said he would be open to a substantially better deal, including in his speech in Davos earlier this year."
US Senator Ben Sasse of the Republican Party, who has criticized Trump for instigating a possible trade war with China, said he believed the White House's shift on TPP was a positive sign.
ls/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)