Trump 'preparing orders to review all free trade deals'

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration is preparing new executive orders to re-examine all 14 US free trade agreements, including one with Singapore, and review government procurement policies to aid American companies, two administration officials said.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) with Mexico and Canada will top the list of trade deals to be reviewed, which will affect 20 countries from the Americas to Asia, added the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

They said on Wednesday that the trade deal and procurement review orders are among several executive actions that the Trump administration is preparing on trade. The timing of the orders is unclear, but they could start to be rolled out next week, the officials said.

Politico first reported the plan for the two orders, quoting an administration official as saying the trade orders would help shift the White House narrative "to a place where the President can really shine".

The fate of Mr Trump's first major legislative effort in Congress, a measure to replace the 2010 Obama- care health law, remains uncertain amid stiff opposition from conservative Republicans.

The orders to review existing trade deals and public procurement policies would be largely symbolic, as the administration has already announced its intention to renegotiate Nafta, with plans to formally notify Congress of its intention to launch talks in the coming weeks.

The US trade deals cover Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Oman, Panama, Peru, Singapore and South Korea.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he would welcome orders to review trade deals if that accelerated negotiations on changing them.

Mr Trump's trade officials, including White House adviser Peter Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, have long said Nafta's rules-of-origin provisions need to be tightened to exclude more components from outside the trading bloc. Nafta requires cars and trucks to have only 62.5 per cent North American content, providing significant opportunities for Asian manufacturers to supply parts.

The procurement review would be in line with Mr Trump's "Buy American, Hire American" campaign push and could win some allies among Democrats in Congress.

But Republican Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas said: "I am more interested in getting our trade representative passed on the Senate floor."

The nomination of Mr Robert Lighthizer, Mr Trump's choice for US Trade Representative, has been stalled in the Senate.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Trump 'preparing orders to review all free trade deals''. Print Edition | Subscribe