BELGRADE – US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that withdraws the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

The move on January 23 is actually a formality since the controversial TPP agreement had not yet been approved by the Senate.

Trump called the ending of the United States’ association with the TPP a “great thing for the American worker” and said instead that Washington will sign bilateral trade deals with other members, including Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Malaysia, and New Zealand.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama had intended the trade pact to re-establish U.S. economic leadership in a region increasingly dominated by trade with China, which was excluded from the agreement.

German Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said Washington’s withdrawal from the TPP would “open opportunities for us.”

He told the daily Handelsblatt that “Trump must simply recognize that the U.S. economy often isn’t competitive, while the German economy is.”

Anatoly Aksakov, the chairman of the State Duma’s Financial Market Committee, said Washington’s withdrawal from the TPP “is a good signal” because it shows that Trump is “acting as a pragmatist in the interests of the American people instead of acting against other states.”

Trump also said he will renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. He has blamed the agreement for taking jobs away from American workers.

Australia and other Pacific nations said they will try to salvage the trans-Pacific trade agreement, possibly by letting China fill the void left by the United States.

“Losing the United States…is a big loss, there is no question about that,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Canberra on January 24. “But we are not about to walk away. … Certainly, there is potential for China to join.”

Turnbull said he wants to “maintain this momentum toward open markets and free trade. … Protectionism is not a ladder to get you out of the low-growth trap. It is a shovel to dig it deeper.”

The U.S. withdrawal gives China an opening not only to join the pact for the first time but to greatly influence the terms of trade in a region that makes up 40 percent of the world economy.

Meanwhile, Trump met on January 23 with the heads of several large companies, including Elon Musk of SpaceX and executives from Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, Ford, and Lockheed Martin.

Trump said there will “be advantages” for companies that produce in the United States, but there will be a “substantial border tax” on foreign-made goods entering the country. He later met with several union leaders.