By Carol E. Lee and Damian Paletta

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump said Monday the U.S. will impose a "very major" border tax on companies that move overseas and signed a memorandum withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as he sharpens his focus on recasting America's international trade relations.

"We've been talking about this for a long time," Mr. Trump said as he signed the order removing the U.S. from the trade pact with 11 Asian nations. He said the move will be a "great thing for the American worker."

Mr. Trump also enacted a hiring freeze across the federal government, except for the military, and reinstated the so-called "global gag rule," which blocks U.S. foreign-aid dollars going to international family-planning programs that offer abortion or advocate for abortion rights.

Before withdrawing from TPP, Mr. Trump met with business leaders at the White House and asked them to devise a plan to boost U.S. manufacturing.

At the start of the meeting, the president said he would cut taxes for the middle class and businesses, as well as reduce government regulations by at least 75%.

Regulations, he said, have "gotten out of control," and while he described himself as a friend of the environment, he said "some of that stuff makes it impossible to get anything done."

"There will be no country that's going to be faster, better, more fair," Mr. Trump said.

He promised incentives for businesses that produce and hire in the U.S. but warned the leaders, "if you go to another country...we are going to be imposing a very major border tax."

"We don't have free trade because we're the only one that makes it easy to come into the country," Mr. Trump said.

Among the CEOs in attendance were the leaders of Ford Motor Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Under Armour Inc., and Whirlpool Corp., according to the companies, as well as Michael Dell and Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk.

Dow Chemical Co. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris said after the meeting that Mr. Trump asked them to come back to him within 30 days with specific ideas to boost U.S. manufacturing. He said Mr. Trump had to take a phone call halfway through the meeting but then invited the 12 chief executives to join him and continue their conversation in the Oval Office.

Mr. Liveris said the executives discussed at length with Mr. Trump his proposal to set up a tax on U.S. companies that manufacture goods in other countries and then import them back into the U.S.

"We did talk about the border tax quite a bit, and wedid talk about the sorts of industries that could be helped or hurt by that," Mr. Liveris said. "I would take the president at his word here. He's not going to do anything to harm competitiveness."

Ford CEO Mark Fields, who was also at the meeting, said he "came out with a lot of confidence that the president is very, very serious about making sure that the U.S. economy is going to be strong and have policies -- tax, regulatory or trade -- to help drive that, and I think that encourages a lot of us as CEOs as we make decisions moving forward."

The president also is scheduled to meet Monday with labor-union leaders and workers. The White House described the meetings as listening sessions. He is also scheduled to meet with congressional leaders.

The sessions come ahead of his planned meetings with the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the U.K.

Renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada was oneof Mr. Trump's campaign promises. He is also eyeing a new trade deal with the U.K. as the country follows through with its decision to exit from the European Union.

Mr. Trump has described his "border tax" in the past as a selective 35% tax on companies that outsource production to other countries and then import goods back to the U.S. That is different from the "border adjustment" that is a key feature of the House Republicans' tax plan. Mr. Trump has criticized that idea, which would tax all imports and exempt exports from U.S. business taxation.

Write to Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com and Damian Paletta at damian.paletta@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 23, 2017 12:33 ET (17:33 GMT)

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