NOEL KING, HOST:
President Trump in the past made no secret of the fact that he did not like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Here is then-candidate Trump in June of 2016.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country.
KING: The TPP was a trade agreement, it involves several Pacific Rim countries. It was also supposed to include the U.S., but President Trump said it would hurt American workers and he withdrew this country from the pact. And then yesterday, he told a group of lawmakers that he was looking into rejoining the TPP. Robert Holleyman was a deputy U.S. trade representative in the Obama administration. He helped push for the TPP. He's with us in studio now. Thanks for coming in.
ROBERT HOLLEYMAN: Good morning.
KING: So why do you think President Trump is taking another look at the TPP?
HOLLEYMAN: My sense is he's taking another look for two reasons. One, national economic reasons, particularly agricultural interests, other interests of U.S. workers who want to have access to these fast-growing Asia-Pacific markets. Secondly, national security interests. The ties that the U.S. would achieve through a Trans-Pacific Partnership strengthen our ties with key security allies like Japan and Australia, New Zealand. And I think the president realizes, as President Obama did, that having closer links economically with those countries increases our defense capabilities and readiness.
KING: You know, it's interesting though, the TPP became kind of a political football during the campaign. It was a little poisonous, even Hillary Clinton distanced herself from it. Do you think the politics right now on free trade are any more favorable than they were in 2016?
HOLLEYMAN: Politics around trade have always been incredibly complicated. What's really complicated now though is that the other 11 countries have moved ahead with their own deal, and the U.S. is now on the outside. And for the U.S. to try to get back in once we've already left the deal is going to be even more complicated than it was when we were trying to negotiate the deal from the center of the table.
KING: Do you think those 11 countries are going to welcome the U.S. back with open arms?
HOLLEYMAN: I think...
KING: Are they going to make some demands?
HOLLEYMAN: No, I think clearly those countries will make some demands. One - one of the things they did is they stripped out of their new package some of the provisions, particularly around intellectual property rights, that the U.S. fought hardest to get. So we'd have to get those back into the deal when they've been stripped out.
Secondly, in domestic interests, President Trump will have to negotiate with the U.S. Congress. I mean, it really was the U.S. Congress that chose not to act on the TPP when it was concluded in 2015. So to get back in the deal, we'll have to not only satisfy Republicans with stronger intellectual property, but we'll have to satisfy Democrats with stronger labor rights provisions. And we'll have to negotiate all of that with 11 countries when we're not at the table. It'll be tough.
KING: It'll be tough. And maybe that is why it's unclear if the president is really serious. Last night, he tweeted - would only join the TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to President Obama. It sounds like what you're saying is that is unlikely to happen, not without a lot of negotiation.
HOLLEYMAN: I think that's unlikely to happen because he really has this twinfold (ph) problem of having to not only convince the 11 countries who have lost faith in the United States and our ability to negotiate, but he has to negotiate with the U.S. Congress on what it would take to get back in. And then he has to do that now with the U.S. isolated as an outsider.
So it would be great for America's security interests, great for America's economic interests to be back in. It's a fundamental mistake for the U.S. to be out of it, particularly as we focus on the impact on China. I mean, TPP was designed to be the alternative to the closed Chinese system.
KING: Robert Holleyman was deputy U.S. trade representative in the Obama administration. Thank you so much, sir.
HOLLEYMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.