(CN) – President Donald Trump on Monday formally withdrew the United States from the behemoth Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, an agreement he repeatedly assailed during his presidential campaign.
“This is a great thing for the American worker, what we just did,” Trump said after signing the executive order as his Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, and other members of the new White House staff looked on.
Negotiated under President Barack Obama, the agreement brought together the United States and 11 other nations along the Pacific Rim, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, in a free-trade zone encompassing about 800 million people and 40 percent of the world’s economy.
In addition to lowering trade tariffs among the partners, the deal also established rules for resolving trade disputes and created a framework for new protections for intellectual property.
The TTP was one of the few areas that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed upon during his eight years in office — House Speaker Paul Ryan even led his GOP colleagues in granting the Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the deal — but congressional Democrats vehemently opposed it, saying it benefited corporations and hurt American workers and the environment.
Because the agreement was never ratified by Congress, Trump’s decision to withdraw from it Monday is not expected to have an immediate, tangible effect on the U.S. economy. However, it signals the beginning of a new era — and philosophy — in U.S. trade policy, and is seen by many as Trump’s first concrete move to dismantle the legacy of former President Obama.
But Arizona Sen. John McCain, a champion of the agreement, said walking away from it is a “serious mistake that will have lasting consequences for America’s economy and our strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region.”
President Trump also signed memorandums freezing most federal government hiring, though he noted an exception for the military, and reinstating a ban on providing federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide information on the option.
The regulation, known as the “Mexico City Policy,” has been instituted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones since 1984.
In regard to the federal hiring freeze, the White House said the government’s workforce has expanded significantly during the last two Administrations, from approximately 1.8 million civilian employees during the Clinton Administration to approximately 2.1 million as of 2016 — an increase of nearly 17 percent.
Meanwhile, the administration said, federal employee health and retirement benefits continue to be based “on antiquated assumptions and require a level of generosity long since abandoned by most of the private sector.”
“Those costs are unsustainable for the federal government, just as they are proving to be unsustainable for state and local governments with similar health and retirement packages,” the administration said in a statement.
Of the Mexico City Policy, the White House said “President Trump issued a memorandum reestablishing the Mexico City Policy. Under this initiative, the United States will end the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund abortions overseas, along with coercive abortion and sterilization practices.”
Earlier on Monday, Trump met with business leaders and told them that while he thought they were all “great people,” if they are tempted to move manufacturing or other operations to another country, “we are going to be imposing a very major border tax” on the products their overseas facilities produce.
“All you have to do is stay,” he told the corporate titans who joined him for breakfast in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
He also promised tax advantages to companies that produce products domestically, saying he fully intends to follow through on a campaign promise to cut regulations by at least 75 percent.
The business leaders meeting with Trump on Monday morning included Elon Musk, the head of SpaceX; Michael Dell, of Dell Inc.; Jeff Fettig, chairman and CEO of Whirlpool Corp.; Alex Gorsky, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson; Marillyn Hewson, chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, and Mario Longhi, president and CEO of United States Steel Corp.
The session kicked off Trump’s first working day as president, a day on which he also met with labor leaders to discuss the economic policies he intends to pursue and his intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
At the morning meeting, Trump asked the business leaders to come up with a plan within the next 30 days to boost the nation’s manufacturing sector.
Among the new president’s guests at the session was Mark Fields, the president and CEO of Ford Motor Co., which canceled plans to build a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico after Trump tweeted his intentions to punish one of Ford’s competitors, General Motors CO., for building a factory in south of the border.
After the meeting, Fields told waiting reporters that he’s confident Trump will work to create jobs.
Toward that end, Trump tasked the group of business leaders to come up with a series of actions to help stimulate the American manufacturing sector within the next 30 days.
“What we want to do is bring manufacturing back,” Trump said.
“We are going to be cutting taxes massively for both the middle class and for companies, and that’s massive,” he added.
The White House touted the afternoon meeting in a couple of different ways. Initially it was described as a “listening session with union leaders and American workers.” By Monday afternoon, the overt reference to unions was dropped and the meeting was dubbed a “listening session with American workers.”
Nevertheless, most of the attendees came from a spectrum of unions, among them Mark Coles of the Ironworkers, Local 5; Joseph Sellers of the Sheet Metal Workers’ Union; and Doug McCarron and Thomas Flynn of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.
“This is a group I know well,” trump said as he entered the room shortly after 3 p.m., adding “I’ve hired thousands and thousands of you.”
When Trump told the union officials he’d terminated the Trans-Pacific Partnership, many in the room applauded.
“We are going to put a lot of people back to work,” Trump said.
Moments later, the pool reporters covering the event were being ushered out of the room when McCarron began praising Trump on his inaugural address.
Trump immediately asked the union official to wait while the reporters could be reassembled.
“Hey press, get back in here,” the president yelled.
After the pool was back in position, McCarron repeated his assessment of the speech. “
It hit home for the people who have been hurting,” he said.