President Donald Trump shows the presidential memorandum withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Oval Office on Monday. Pool photo by Ron Sachs/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 23 (UPI) -- With a stroke of a pen Monday, President Donald Trump took executive action to scrap former President Barack Obama's sweeping trade deal with Asia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and implemented a federal hiring freeze.
Trump signed the presidential memoranda on his fourth official day as president, backing away from the TPP. The president promised during his campaign to do so, as the pact has been criticized by people skeptical of its benefits and worried over its potential to kill U.S. jobs.
"We have been talking about this for a long time," Trump said, calling the order a "great thing for the American worker."
Since the TPP never took practical effect, as it wasn't approved by Congress, Trump's withdrawal is partly symbolic. It carries a weighted message that the president won't hesitate to stomp on existing policy in an effort to guard U.S. businesses.
Many lawmakers have railed against the TPP, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and some of Trump's GOP allies in Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Many supporters of the agreement have warned against junking the TPP, saying it could harm U.S. relations with key allies in the region, like Japan, and result in substantial economic benefit for China -- which could step in and pick up the slack left by the deal's death.
In addition to junking the TPP, Trump was expected to sign an order Monday to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement -- an accord introduced in 1994 to lift restrictions and facilitate greater trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico.
If those negotiations should yield negative, Trump said the 17-year-old deal -- which has been subject to the same criticisms as the TPP -- could also be killed.
"If our partners refuse a renegotiation that gives American workers a fair deal, then the president will give notice of the United States' intent to withdraw from NAFTA," the White House stated on its website.
Commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and presidential trade council head Peter Navarro will be the primary officials working on Trump's trade policies.
Former U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said earlier this month Trump risks "abdicating" trade leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and it would create an opportunity for China to step in with its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership deal that includes Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
"There simply is no way to reconcile a get-tough-on-China policy with withdrawing from TPP," Froman said during a speech to the Washington International Trade Association. "That would be the biggest gift any US president could give China, one with broad and deep consequences, economic and strategic."
Trump announced plans over the weekend to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. He spoke with them on the phone over the weekend.
"We're going to start some negotiations having to do with NAFTA," Trump said Sunday at a swearing-in ceremony for his top White House advisers. "I ran a campaign somewhat based on NAFTA. But we're going to start renegotiating on NAFTA, on immigration, on security at the border."
Canada and Mexico are the United States' two largest export markets.
But Trump says it's ruining the United States' manufacturing sector and called it "one of the worst deals ever" during an October debate with Hillary Clinton.
The Center for Automotive Research said that pulling out of NAFTA could cost auto jobs created after the Great Recession.
"Counter to the incoming Trump administration's goal of creating manufacturing jobs, the withdrawal from NAFTA or the implementation of punitive tariffs could result in the loss of 31,000 U.S. jobs," CAR said.
Trump has threatened a 35 percent tariff on goods sold back to the United States if companies move their operations outside the United States.
Also Monday, Trump ordered a hiring freeze in the federal government, except the military and certain national security positions
The freeze is part of Trump's plan of action for his first 100 days. The action, though, drew criticism from the largest federal employees union.
"This hiring freeze will mean longer lines at Social Security offices, fewer workplace safety inspections, less oversight of environmental polluters, and greater risk to our nation's food supply and clean water systems," American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox said.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described President Donald Trump's actions as executive orders, when in fact they were presidential memoranda.