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Trump delivers 'America First' trade message to Asia conference, says U.S. will only cut deals with individual nations

Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

DA NANG, Vietnam -- President Donald Trump on Friday delivered a stern message to a group of Pacific Rim nations eager for signs of the United States' continued engagement and economic leadership in the region: America First.

"We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore," Trump told an audience of business leaders assembled in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which annually gathers leaders from across the region and around the world to discuss trade and development.

"I am always going to put America first the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first."

Though the president began with fulsome praise, citing individual countries by name for their economic and social progress, he soon segued to the kind of speech he often delivers to rowdy American arenas full of supporters -- railing against unfair trade practices, closed factories and Chinese economic aggression.

Unlike at those rallies, at this seaside conference where business and government leaders are trying to salvage a Pacific nations trade deal that Trump derailed, the American president received scattered applause, even as many in the crowd stood to snap pictures at the start of the half-hour speech.

At a couple points, Trump paused to express his disappointment at the restrained reactions. "Not too many people here are from Thailand," he said when his warm words about the country were met with silence.

 

After he complained that "while we lowered market barriers, other countries didn't open their markets to us" -- something the now scuttled Trans-Pacific Partnership would have done much to change for the U.S. -- the president responded to an apparent heckler in the crowd.

"Funny. They must have been one of the beneficiaries," he said, gazing into the audience. "What country do you come from, sir?"

After days of conciliatory talk during his visit to Beijing, Trump offered harsher criticism of China, mostly not by name, than he had publicly in that country. He spoke against countries that use "government-run industrial planning and state-owned enterprises" and engage in "product dumping, subsidized goods, currency manipulation and predatory industrial policies," echoing critiques from his campaign speeches.

"They ignored the rules to gain advantage over those who followed the rules, causing enormous distortions in commerce and threatening the foundations of international trade itself," he added.

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