Promising to put “America first” in his trade practices, President Donald Trump used a speech in Vietnam yesterday to denounce multilateral agreements embraced by the region and deliver what appeared to be a rebuke to China, railing against trade practices he says have put Americans out of work.
“From this day forward we will compete on a fair and equal basis,” Trump told a gathering of chief executives on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam.
“We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore. I am always going to put America first.”
In his speech, Trump told executives gathered in the coastal city of Danang that he was happy to enter into bilateral trading agreements with any of the nations in the Indo-Pacific region - but only if they are reciprocal and fair.
“What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible,” Trump said.
As one of his first acts as president, Trump rejected the far-reaching Pacific Rim trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, disappointing many nations in the region, including the summit’s host, Vietnam.
Leaders of the 11 remaining TPP members, representing roughly 13.5 per cent of the global economy, were scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the APEC summit to seek an agreement in principle that would not require US involvement.
But the prospects of that deal appeared in doubt yesterday, as a meeting of the leaders of 11 countries still involved in the pact was delayed. There was no word on whether they had given up reaching agreement in Danang or were still working toward an agreement on how to move forward without US involvement.
Meanwhile, a 16-member region-wide pact called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is also under negotiation. It encompasses China and India but also does not include the US.
Trump also took aim at what he described as abusive trade practices he said had “hurt many people in our country”. He described “jobs, factories and industries” being “stripped out of the United States and out of many countries” as a result.
Without singling out China by name, Trump argued the US had adhered to World Trade Organisation principles, only to be taken advantage of by counties that had ignored the rules and engaged in harmful practices such as product dumping, currency manipulation and government subsidising of goods.
“We can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses and we will not tolerate them,” he said.
In the speech, Trump said he had spoken “openly and directly” with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit about “about China’s unfair trade practices and the enormous trade deficits they have produced with the United States”.
Trump said China’s trade surplus, which stood at $223 billion (£170bn) for the first ten months of the year, was unacceptable, and repeated his language from Thursday when he said he did “not blame China” or any other country “for taking advantage of the United States on trade”.
But Trump went on to say that the US would “no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating or economic aggression”.
“We will confront the destructive practices of forcing businesses to surrender their technology to the state and forcing them into joint ventures in exchange for market access. We will address the massive subsidising of industries through colossal state-owned enterprises that put private competitors out of business, all the time,” he said.