Trump Talks 'America First' In Asia

Nov 11, 2017
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump has brought America First to Asia. Here he is Friday in Da Nang, Vietnam, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of any more. I am always going to put America first the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first.

SIMON: The president's already pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with 11 other countries. And now those countries have announced they're a step closer to going ahead with the deal without the United States. We're joined now by Wendy Cutler. She served as acting deputy U.S. trade representative during the Obama administration and helped negotiate the TPP. Ms. Cutler, thanks so much for being with us.

WENDY CUTLER: Well, thank you.

SIMON: President Trump also said in that speech that multilateral trade deals, quote - large ones like TPP - quote, "tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible." Does he have a point?

CUTLER: Well, I disagree with that. I think multilateral agreements have been in our interest and continue to be in our interest. And I think it's interesting that just today, the other TPP countries, without us, announced a major deal. Basically, they're going to go ahead with this deal without the United States.

SIMON: Well - and what are the implications of that?

CUTLER: The implications are that U.S. companies and their workers, U.S. farmers, U.S. service providers are going to find that they're going to be disadvantaged in these 11 other countries' markets. So for example, if Japan has a 38 percent tariff on beef, that tariff will go away for the 11 or 10 other countries but not for us - makes our products less competitive.

SIMON: President Trump says, though, that he's certainly open to bilateral trading agreements with any country, including those 11. Are - is that a practical approach that could replace the effect of TPP?

CUTLER: Well, to date, none of the other countries have responded with great interest. They're more interested in regional deals because they feel there's a bigger bang for their buck. It has more impact, and it involves more markets, so, therefore, they can get greater benefits from these trade agreements.

SIMON: So...

CUTLER: It's possible that some in the future may change their minds. But right now none are banging on our doors for such deals.

SIMON: President Trump seemed to laud China in particular for having what amounts to China-first trade policies. Does he have a point about that - that China has succeeded by pursuing their own self-interest?

CUTLER: I think we have very serious trade issues with China that need to be addressed. And I applaud many of President Trump's statements with respect to China and his determination, along with his team, to make sure that China opens up its markets and plays by the rules.

SIMON: Well, let me press you a little bit on that more, though. Has China succeeded by using some of the same strategy and tactics that President Trump essentially wants to use to promote U.S. trade now?

CUTLER: Well, they have succeeded by putting up trade barriers. They have heavily subsidized many of their industries. And they have not provided the type of intellectual property protection that companies around the world need to sell their products.

SIMON: All of which the United States would supposedly find objectionable. Am I correct in that?

CUTLER: Correct.

SIMON: Yeah. Ms. Cutler, a last question, if we could. Is China filling a vacuum the United States hasn't occupied?

CUTLER: Well, it was noticed that President Xi Jinping made a speech to the APEC CEO summit following President Trump's speech, where President Xi underscored that he is committed to multilateralism. He is committed to open trade. He's committed to fighting the forces of protectionism. And he wants to work with other countries on multilateral trade deals.

SIMON: Wendy Cutler, who is now with the Asia Society Policy Institute, thanks so much for joining us.

CUTLER: Well, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.