US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership but now has instructed officials to look at rejoining the trade pact

Washington (United States) (AFP) - President Donald Trump has instructed trade officials to examine re-entering the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, Republican lawmakers said Thursday.

The decision would mark an abrupt about-face in the of a president who had campaigned against the trade deal.

Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP immediately after taking office in January 2017, and his officials have said repeatedly he prefers bilateral negotiations.

But Republican Senator Ben Sasse said Trump has instructed US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his top economic advisor Larry Kudlow to review rejoining the TPP.

“Definitely the big headline coming out of this meeting is that the president said he was deputizing Larry Kudlow and Ambassador Lighthizer to look at reentering the TPP negotiations,” Sasse told reporters following a meeting at the White House.

The Washington Post reported that Trump had made the sudden decision during a meeting with legislators and state governors on trade.

Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, was quoted as saying Trump told Lighthizer and Kudlow to examine making the rejoining “on our terms.”

Some present at the meeting said joining the trade pact could strengthen the US position in the current trade spat with China, which is not a party to the agreement

The 11 TPP members, including Canada, Mexico and Japan, proceeded without the United States, and signed the sweeping agreement last month.

Critics said exiting the agreement was a strategic gift to China, which stood to strengthen its trade dominance in the region as the United States retreated.

Despite being harshly critical of the agreement, Trump had suggested in recent months that he would consider rejoining the group if it could be altered to suit administration priorities, but without providing specifics.