President Trump plans to sign an executive order Saturday that would launch a six-month review of all existing U.S. trade agreements and propose ways to amend any of these agreements, reflecting the White House’s more cautious approach to trade issues after threatening more sweeping moves earlier this week.
Trump had planned to sign a much more confrontational executive order Saturday that would have started the process of withdrawing the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement. But top advisers, the leaders of Canada and Mexico, and scores of business executives pushed back on this idea. Trump agreed to halt the effort.
Instead, Trump has decided to renegotiate NAFTA. His changed approach to NAFTA comes after he has also backed away from threats he leveled for months aimed at China. He declined to label China a currency manipulator, even though he had promised to, and is now trying to foster more cooperative economic and national security discussions with Beijing.
Earlier this week, however, Trump did order tariffs on the imports of certain lumber products from Canada.
The executive order he plans to sign Saturday in Pennsylvania would direct the commerce secretary and the U.S. trade representative to conduct “a performance review of all our existing international trade and investment agreements.”
The United States has 20 bilateral trade agreements with different countries but is also a member of the World Trade Organization, an international organization that reviews trade disputes.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the U.S. involvement with the WTO would be a key part of this review, and the findings could lead the country to try to amend how the organization operates.
The impact of the new executive order could be muted or sweeping, depending on how the White House plans to act based on any recommendations.
Throughout his successful presidential campaign, Trump promised to rewrite the rules of international free-trade agreements.
That stance helped him both to separate himself from many prominent candidates in the Republican primaries and to attack former secretary of state and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who had supported several major trade agreements during her political career.