US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with governors and members of Congress at the White House on Thursday. Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

While attempting to allay fears among the American farming industry about possible fallout from a trade war with China, US President Donald Trump unexpectedly pointed his administration in a surprising direction: reopening Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

During a meeting with lawmakers and governors from agriculture-dependent states on Thursday to talk about possible policy support, Trump directed his top economic adviser Larry Kudlow and top trade official Robert Lighthizer to talk to the 11 member nations of the TPP trade pact about the possibility of rejoining the deal. Formally abandoning the agreement was one of Trump’s signature campaign promises and one of his first acts as president.

“The president multiple times reaffirmed in general to all of us and looked right at Larry Kudlow and said, ‘Larry, go get it done,’” Republican Senator Ben Sasse told reporters at the White House, according to a report in The Hill.

The senator played down the significance of the news, cautioning that Trump “is a guy who likes to blue-sky a lot and entertain a lot of different ideas.”

Under the Barack Obama administration, the US took a leadership role in the establishment of the TPP as a trade regime better tailored to protect US interests than the World Trade Organization. Trump railed against the potential deal during his presidential campaign but later said that he “would do TPP if we were able to make a substantially better deal.”

In his comments on Thursday, Trump also assured farmers affected by tariff threats that “everything is going to be better,” after admonishing China for treating American agriculture unfairly.

Proposed tariffs announced by Trump this year were met with equally harsh proposals from China, which primarily targeted the agricultural industry. The threats prompted a drop in prices for products ranging from pork to soybeans at a time when farm incomes are already projected to fall to their lowest levels in more than a decade.

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