3-8-18 5:56 PM EST | Email Article

As a symbol of the shifting dynamics, 11 Pacific Rim countries signed a new regional free-trade agreement in Chile just half an hour before Mr. Trump was scheduled to sign his new tariff orders. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. spearheaded that pact, dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But Mr. Trump, on his first working day in office, pulled the U.S. out, asserting the pact was fundamentally flawed and detrimental to the U.S.

American free-trade advocates were chagrined at the anticipated split-screen image: U.S. allies signing a new trade pact while the U.S. president unveiled new tariffs.

"While the TPP countries have today signed an agreement tearing down trade barriers, President Trump and his trade team are hard at work raising them," said Daniel Price, a senior White House economic aide in the George W. Bush administration. "The U.S. is increasingly isolated," he added. "Is this what winning looks like?"

"From a Canadian perspective, there's never been a better time to diversify," Canadian Trade Minster François-Philippe Champagne told reporters before the TPP signing. "The economic center of the world is shifting somehow towards Asia, so we need to be prepared."

The tariffs have been contentious at home as well, roiling Mr. Trump's own White House and drawing fierce criticism from members of Congress from his own Republican Party.

As the tariff policy was nearing completion, Gary Cohn, the director of the White House National Economic Council, announced his resignation Tuesday. Mr. Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and the leader of the faction of free-traders inside Mr. Trump's divided administration, had strongly opposed the tariffs but lost the fight against the president's economic nationalist aides. Those included White House trade adviser Peter Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the chief architects of the policy.

"There's no real stability or predictability about this," Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts said shortly before the announcement. Mr. Roberts chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees an export-dependent sector worried about becoming cannon fodder in a resulting trade war.

The new flexibility exempting allies "might be moving in the right direction, but it's still just a bad, bad move," said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of Senate GOP leadership. "It's just going to have bad consequences for us."

--Paul Kiernan in Santiago, Chile, and Siobhan Hughes in Washington contributed to this article.

Write to Jacob M. Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com, Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 08, 2018 17:56 ET (22:56 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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