Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil chief executive, has drawn pointed scrutiny for his cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin—an affinity he and Trump share. But his disagreement with Trump on one key policy issue has drawn far less notice: In 2013, the CEO heaped praise on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Trump spent his entire presidential campaign ranting against TPP, and has promised he will pull the U.S. out of it on his first day as president.
But Tillerson, like many industry executives, argued the trade deal would benefit the U.S. and improve the quality of life for people living in the Pacific Rim countries that came together to agree on the deal.
He made the case clearly in a speech on June 3, 2013, in Washington D.C. to the Asia Society Global Forum. His remarks focused on how to produce enough energy for the world’s growing population.
“Even when a nation does not have a rich endowment of resources, we have learned that open markets and free trade can bring nations the energy supplies they need,” Tillerson said. “But only governments can open the avenues of free trade.”
He then said that governments in Asia and the U.S. need to make policies that “support international cooperation and energy trade.”
“One of the most promising developments on this front is the ongoing effort for the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he continued. “The 11 nations that have been working to lower trade barriers and end protectionist policies under this partnership are a diverse mix of developed and developing economies. But all of them understand the value of open markets to growth and progress for every nation.”
Those remarks weren’t an anomaly. In a 2007 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, he criticized the kind of trade rhetoric that Trump now enthusiastically embraces.
“Trade barriers, punitive taxes, artificial subsidies, and other market manipulations may appear to some to be in the interest of U.S. energy security,” he said then. “But to the extent they inhibit development and diversification of global economic energy supply, they clearly are not.”
He then argued for “a global free market for energy.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this report.
If he becomes secretary of State—one of the most powerful Cabinet positions—Tillerson will have significant sway over U.S. trade policy. And he wouldn’t be the only member of Trump’s Cabinet to back the pact. The Wall Street Journal noted on Dec. 8 that the president-elect “is staffing his administration with TPP supporters,” including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Secretary of Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross, Gen. James Mattis, and even Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president-elect.
In fact, should he become the country’s chief diplomat, Tillerson’s praise isn’t out of line with that of his predecessors—Secretary of State John Kerry and, of course, Hillary Clinton.