US president Donald Trump has signed three executive orders on his first full day in office. They cover:
- a federal government hiring freeze, excluding the military;
- US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal; and
- a ban on federal funds for groups promoting abortion overseas.
Withdrawal from the TPP was a centrepiece of Mr Trump's protectionist-themed campaign, though with the trade deal already dead in the water* today's order is of symbolic value only. The meat and drink of the new president's "America-first" policy — a 35% tariff on goods produced by US companies that relocate jobs overseas, plus possible tariffs on cheap Chinese imports — will require legislation from Congress.
"A great thing for the American worker we did," Mr Trump said at the Oval Office after signing the TPP withdrawal order. He also reiterated that a "substantial border tax" was on the way. The US dollar, US Treasury bond yields and stocks on Wall Street edged lower following his comments.
Axing the TPP and its promise to open new markets removes one of President Obama's few legacies (and that of John Key). The new president has also made moves to scrap his predecessor's only other major policy initiative, Obamacare (see below).
Notably, there was a note of division with Republican senator John McCain tweeting:
After signing the TPP order, Mr Trump said he was open to bilateral deals, saying "We are going to have trade, but we are going to have one on one. And if somebody misbehaves, we are going to send them a letter of termination, 30 days, and they will either straighten it out or we're gone, not one of these deals where you can't get out of them and it is a disaster."
At his post-cabinet press conference today, NZ prime minister Bill English reiterated he was opend to a "TPP minus one" arrangement. He also revealed that Trade Minister Todd McClay will travel to the US to meet trade reps about a possible trade deal. Mr English characterised Mr Trump's 30-day misbehavour clause as "unattractive."
Creates opening for China
In a statement, Senator McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, added, "This decision will forfeit the opportunity to promote American exports, reduce trade barriers, open new markets, and protect American invention and innovation. It will create an opening for China to rewrite the economic rules of the road at the expense of American workers.
"And it will send a troubling signal of American disengagement in the Asia-Pacific region at a time we can least afford it."
The federal hiring freeze will cheer fiscal conservatives otherwise concerned about Mr Trump's enthusiasm for tariffs and new spending various areas.
There will be no pay freeze, despite earlier reports from US media.
The abortion funding order continues a longstanding cycle of Democrat presidents providing taxpayer money for non-government overseas groups, then Republican presidents removing it. The move will bolster the new president's stock with social conservatives. His pending nomination for the open position on the Supreme Court is expected to follow a similar tack.
Reiterating desire to repeal and replace Obamacare
On January 22, Mr Trump signed his first executive order, directing members of his administration to take steps that will facilitate the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act — the health insurance subsidy scheme better known as Obamacare.
Like his TPP order, it was primarily of symbolic value.
At his January 12 press conference, Mr Trump said "It will be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously."
The repeal and replace steps will both require legislation from Congress. Republicans, who hold majorities in the House and Senate, agree with the president that Obamacare should go. But it is still not clear what form the replacement scheme will take.
* The TPP requires ratification from countries representing 80% of the GDP of original signatories to come into force. In practical terms, that means no US, no TPP. The outgoing Obama administration formally abandoned its attempt to get the TPP ratified by Congress on November 11.