US President Donald Trump's apparent about-face over the TPP came late on Thursday, on Twitter. Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, claiming it was unfair. Now he's having second thoughts.

President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington DC, US, on April 12, 2018.
President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington DC, US, on April 12, 2018. (Reuters)

President Donald Trump said on Thursday the US could re-enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership if it could get a "better" deal.

The decision would mark an abrupt about-face for a president who had campaigned against the deal and swiftly withdrew from it after taking office last year.

"Would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama," he wrote in a late night tweet.

The statement came after the White House announced earlier in the day that US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and top economic adviser Larry Kudlow were re-examining Washington's position.

Trump has frequently disparaged multilateral trade deals, calling for example the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) a "disaster."

Policymakers sceptic

But, policymakers in the Asia-Pacific region on Friday responded with scepticism to Trump's initial announcement about the possibility of the US rejoining the trade deal.

"If it's true, I would welcome it," Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Friday and before Trump's tweet. Aso added that the facts needed to be verified.

Trump "is a person who could change temperamentally, so he may say something different the next day," Aso said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also flagged challenges to the US rejoining the pact.

"If the United States, it turns out, do genuinely wish to rejoin, that triggers a whole new process," she told reporters in Auckland.

The TPP, which now comprises 11 nations, was designed to cut trade barriers in some of the fastest-growing economies of the Asia-Pacific region and to counter China's rising economic and diplomatic clout. 

Trump pulled the US out of the pact in early 2017, citing concerns about US jobs.

Even before Trump's official withdrawal last year, US participation in the pact was seen as increasingly unlikely due to opposition in the US Congress.

The US entered TPP negotiations in 2008. In 2016, then President Barack Obama's administration abandoned attempts to push the pact through Congress.

The other 11 countries forged ahead with their own agreement without US participation, and in the process eliminated chapters on investment, government procurement and intellectual property that were key planks of Washington's demands.

Source: AFP