January 24, 2017 12:10 PM, EST

FedEx CEO Calls Trump's Withdrawal From Trade Deal 'Unfortunate'

Larry Downing/Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump should reconsider his positions on international trade and work to embrace China and its vast market, FedEx Corp's CEO said Jan. 24, one day after Trump made good on a campaign promise to pull out of a major trade deal with Asian allies.

CEO Fred Smith, in separate media appearances on Jan. 24, questioned Trump's decision to formally withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. The package and business services company employs thousands of people whose jobs depend on international trade.

"The United States being cut off from trade would be like trying to breathe without oxygen," Smith said in an interview with Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo.

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FedEx ranks No. 2 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.

Smith argued that some 40 million Americans have jobs as a result of trade, whose benefits are more "diffuse" and harder to see than the "pain" in areas like manufacturing.

"It's an essential part of our economy. I think the decision to pull out of TPP is unfortunate because the real beneficiary of that is China. And China has been very mercantilist, very protectionist. ... We need to try to stop those things and get the Chinese to open up their 1.3 billion person market, not cut them off. We have the opportunity to sell huge amounts of goods into China."

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On Jan. 23, Trump signed an executive order to formally withdraw from the TPP as China's influence in the region grows. The Republican president has been critical of China.

Trump also said he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement at an "appropriate time," following another campaign pledge to redo the Nafta trade pact with Canada and Mexico.

Smith, who met with Trump in New York following his November election victory, urged the new president to reconsider his position toward the Asian powerhouse despite China's historic protectionism.

In an earlier interview on CBS' "This Morning" program, Smith said, "I would urge him to rethink some of those positions."

"To some degree, the administration's positions are a little bit out of date with reality of China today. They want to open their markets today," Smith told CBS.

He added that Trump's trade team — Commerce Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House National Trade Council head Peter Navarro — should work to "open up trade with China, not walk away from it."

Since well before November's election, Smith, 72, criticized the positions of both Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, saying he hoped cooler heads would prevail after the election.

In June 2016, he told analysts on an earnings conference call, that anti-trade rhetoric and anti-business positions expressed on the campaign trail were "very worrisome."