Nobody expects a coherent and consistent trade policy from President Donald Trump. But sometimes incoherence and inconsistency are to be welcomed. Trump has apparently directed his trade advisers to explore rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This instruction contradicts much of what has gone before - and is, in other words, a very good idea.
Trump dumped this painstakingly negotiated pact immediately after taking office. The remaining 11 members wisely decided to go ahead anyway. If the U.S. does take part, the pact would encompass 40 percent of global production and one-third of world trade. It would bind the world’s largest market to its fastest-growing economies, realigning supply chains and cementing U.S. economic influence in Asia even as China’s grows. It would reassure allies in the region that the U.S. presence will endure. It could help spur further trade liberalization worldwide, largely on U.S. terms.
None of that moved the president to change his mind a year ago. At a meeting on Thursday to discuss the plight of American farmers, Trump said he was thinking again. Farmers face retaliation from China if the U.S. goes ahead with the tariffs it has threatened on Chinese goods.
Rejoining TPP would help the U.S. on that very question of managing the economic relationship with China.
Threatening trade war, much less actually waging it, is not the best way to make China a rule-abiding economic partner. Far better for the U.S. to lead a coalition of nations that sets high standards for digital trade and protections for intellectual property - that is, the TPP.
Coming home to TPP is only a small part of what the U.S. needs to do to get its trade and economic polices in order.
Trump just had a good idea on trade. Enjoy it while it lasts.