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Donald Trump asks staff to look at new talks on trade deal he killed last year

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/12/2018 David Jackson

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Video by CNBC

WASHINGTON — President Trump told aides to look again at re-entering negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a massive Asia-heavy trade deal that Trump repeatedly denounced on the 2016 campaign trail and had killed just last year, Republican lawmakers said Thursday.

GOP senators and governors from the Midwest, who met with Trump to argue that a looming trade war with China would hurt U.S. agriculture, said they told the president that partnering with other Asian countries would put pressure on the Chinese to end unfair trade practices.

Lawmakers did not know how seriously Trump was about seeking to re-join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposal he attacked as the kind of trade deal that helped ship jobs overseas.

Trump withdrew the U.S. from the TPP negotiations shortly after taking office in early 2017, and has bragged during political rallies about killing the deal.

"Clearly, it's a deliberative process," said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., one of the Republicans who met with Trump.

The delegations from Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana, Kansas, and South Dakota visited Trump to express concern about trade conflict with China.

The Trump administration's threats to put tariffs of Chinese goods has led to counter-threats by China on U.S. goods — moves that agriculture leaders say will lead to higher prices for everybody.

Trump is also threatening to withdraw from another major trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The president told reporters at the lawmakers' meeting that the sides are still negotiating a better NAFTA agreement, and there is "no timeline" for final decisions.

Trump told his guest he would take steps to help farmers, including new ethanol support.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the group told Trump they would "prefer trade as opposed to aid," and urged him to take another look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Roberts and other attendees said Trump asked Larry Kudlow, the new director of the National Economic Council, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to take another look at TPP.

“He looked Larry Kudlow right in the eye and said, ‘Go get it done,'" Sasse said.

Delegation members said they shared concerns about Chinese trade practices — "China cheats in lots and lots of ways," Sasse said — but a tariff war might not be the best way to get them to change.

The other TPP members — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam — are negotiating their own trade agreement, without the United States.

Joining that group would expand U.S. markets, and "that puts pressure on China," said U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who also met with Trump.

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