By MICHAEL A. MEMOLI and KATE IRBY
Tribune Washington Bureau
(TNS) WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump took another step Monday to reshape America’s trade relationships with key global allies, breaking from a proposed 12-nation pact with Pacific Rim nations that was an Obama administration priority as he prepares to renegotiate a decades-old agreement with Canada and Mexico as well.
The executive order Trump signed indicated U.S. withdrawal from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, formalizing what had become a certainty once he was elected. Trump campaigned on protectionist rhetoric, insisting that free-trade agreements benefited global special interests at the expense of American workers.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Trump told reporters as he signed the order, calling the move a “great thing for the American worker.”
Separately, Trump signed an order reinstating a policy first put into place by former President Ronald Reagan, known as the Mexico City policy, which states that the U.S. government will not contribute to nongovernmental groups that “perform or actively promote abortion.”
Rescinding the order was one of the first acts former President Barack Obama took eight years ago. A third order Trump signed at the same time in the Oval Office initiated a hiring freeze across the federal government, with the exception of the military.
Trump has expressed his preference for bilateral trade agreements rather than the multinational pacts that administrations of both parties have pursued in recent decades. On Friday, Trump will welcome British Prime Minister Theresa May, elected herself last year on a populist wave, to the White House for his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader.
The agenda is expected to include the possibility of a bilateral trade agreement as Britain looks to realign its own economy after voting to exit the European Union. Trump’s order is a rebuke of the Obama administration’s stance on trade.
When Obama traveled to the United Kingdom last spring _ a visit designed to boost then-Prime Minister David Cameron and his case for remaining in the European Union – Obama warned that a so-called Brexit would put the nation at the “back of the queue” in trade discussions as the U.S. negotiated a broader deal with the EU.
And in making the case for TPP, the Obama administration had cited several major factors: It would open new markets for U.S.-made goods, raise environmental and labor standards in member nations, make the U.S. a more attractive place for investment and serve a check on growing Chinese influence in Asia. Failure to ratify TPP likely paves the way for China to seek its own regional agreement, at the expense of U.S. interests.
Next week Trump will welcome Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to the White House. Trump said they will discuss terms of a new North American Free Trade Agreement.
Following a weekend of both celebration of Trump’s inauguration and early grievance-airing over the media’s accurate reporting on the size the crowds at the swearing-in, Monday marked the true launch point of his presidency, in the view of the Trump administration.
There will be a “heavy focus on jobs and national security,” the president tweeted. Before signing the executive orders on trade, Trump met with a group of business leaders to make clear his intent to “start making our products again” in the U.S. Trump also signaled policies more favorable to businesses designed to spur job growth – “cutting taxes massively” and “cutting regulation massively.”
“We’re trying to get it down to anywhere from 15 to 20 percent,” he said of the corporate tax rate.
Regulations could be cut “by 75 percent,” he said without explaining how it would work or be measured. He also warned companies that there would be consequences if they offshore their workforce. “If that happens, we are going to be imposing a very major border tax on the products when it comes in,” he said.
Later Monday, Trump was to meet with leaders from organized labor and other American workers _ described as a listening session. This evening he will sit down with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders, a reception that will take place in the residential portion of the White House.
A more intimate meeting with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., will follow. In the first signals of how the Trump White House will operate, Trump also plans lunch with Vice President Mike Pence after the two receive the presidential daily briefing.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer will also hold his first daily press briefing, following a combative and error-laden statement Saturday evening focused on media coverage of inauguration crowd sizes.
Trump also reinstated the Mexico City abortion rules on Monday, which was rescinded by former President Barack Obama exactly eight years ago.
Though Trump has had controversial clashes with Mexico over his border wall policy, this executive order actually has nothing to do with Mexico, despite its name. It’s also not unique to Trump – it’s a policy that gets rescinded or reinstated every time the presidency switches from Democrat to Republican, or vice versa.
It requires foreign nongovernmental organizations to not provide or promote abortion services if they receive funds from the U.S. government. Specifically, the funds would come from the United States Agency for International Development, and abortion cannot be presented as a “method of family planning.” Promoting abortion services includes work such as counseling for women that includes language on abortions.
The policy was named for Mexico City because it was announced at the United Nations International Conference on Population in that location. It was signed into law by former President Ronald Reagan and went into effect in 1985. The policy stayed in effect until 1993, when it was rescinded by former President Bill Clinton. Since then, it has been reinstated by every Republican president and rescinded by every Democratic president within their first few days in office.
Obama rescinded it exactly eight years ago, on Jan. 23, 2009. Obama’s statement when he repealed the policy read, in part: “It is clear that the provisions of the Mexico City Policy are unnecessarily broad and unwarranted under current law, and for the past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries.
For these reasons, it is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development.” The presidents previous to Obama who took actions on the policy signed them on Jan. 22 of their respective years, which is the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Some noted in 2009 that Obama likely waited a day on purpose due to the anniversary, though Obama never confirmed or denied that.
The order does provide exceptions in cases of rape, incest or life-threatening conditions. Critics of the policy refer to it as the “Global Gag Rule,” and the U.S. has been unsuccessfully sued over the policy by those who say it limits freedom of speech.
The policy creates legal problems for organizations in certain countries, such as South Africa, where the groups are legally required to inform a woman seeking an abortion of her rights and refer her to a facility that would perform an abortion.
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