Trump's trade czar expected to get easy
U.S. Senate confirmation
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[February 27, 2017]
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Billionaire investor
Wilbur Ross is expected to be easily confirmed as U.S. Commerce
Secretary on Monday, clearing President Donald Trump's top trade
official to start work on renegotiating trade relationships with China
The vote will insert a major new voice into Trump's economic team, one
that strongly influenced his criticism of the North American Free Trade
Agreement and a now-scrapped Asia-Pacific trade deal.
Ross' nomination is scheduled for a vote on Monday at around 7 p.m.
(0000 GMT). It was advanced by the Senate in a 66-31 procedural vote on
Feb. 17, signaling solid support from Democrats.
Part of that support stems from praise that Ross has drawn from the
United Steelworkers union for his efforts in restructuring several
bankrupt steel companies in the early 2000s, saving numerous plants and
thousands of jobs.
But he also has come under criticism from some left-wing groups as
another billionaire in a Trump cabinet that claims to be focused on the
working class, and for being a "vulture" investor who has eliminated
jobs. Reuters reported last month that Ross's companies have shipped
some 2,700 jobs overseas since 2004.
The 79-year-old investor will oversee a sprawling agency with nearly
44,000 employees responsible for combating the dumping of imports below
cost into U.S. markets, collecting census and critical economic data,
weather forecasting, fisheries management, promoting the United States
to foreign investors and regulating the export of sensitive
While Commerce secretaries rarely take the spotlight in Washington, Ross
is expected to play an outsize role in pursuing Trump's campaign pledge
to slash U.S. trade deficits and bring manufacturing jobs back to
Trump has designated Ross to lead the renegotiation of NAFTA with Mexico
and Canada, a job that in past administrations would have been left to
the U.S. Trade Representative's office.
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Ross will join other major players on the economic team, including
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, director of
the White House National Economic Council.
Some experts said Ross could serve as a counterweight to advisers
such as Peter Navarro, the University of California-Irvine economics
professor who heads Trump's newly created White House National Trade
Council. Navarro has advocated a controversial 45 percent
across-the-board tariff on imports from China that Trump threatened
during his campaign.
"I expect that Ross will quickly become the administration’s chief
trade spokesman, and that Navarro’s influence will be felt
indirectly, rather than through public statements or testimony,"
said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow and trade expert at the Peterson
Institute for International Economics.
At his confirmation hearing, Ross downplayed chances of a trade war
with China, while calling it the "most protectionist" large economy.
He vowed to level the playing field for U.S. companies competing
with Chinese imports and those trying to do business in China's
highly restricted economy.
Ross, estimated by Forbes to be worth $2.9 billion, built his
fortune in the late 1990s and early 2000s by investing in distressed
companies in steel, coal, textiles and auto parts, restructuring
them and often benefiting from tariff protections put in place by
the Commerce Department.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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