- Benoit Tessier/Reuters
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state – Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson – once praised the trade agreement Trump lambasted along the campaign trail as a “promising development” regarding trade relations in the Asia-Pacific region.
In a 2013 speech to the Asia Society Global Forum, Tillerson, whose company has global investments, argued for open markets and free trade to help produce energy for some of the world’s emerging markets.
“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,” he said, in comments first reported by The Daily Beast. “But only governments can open the avenues of free trade.”
Tillerson followed that up by insisting the governments of the US and Asian nations must create policies supporting “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, adding that the countries “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.”
Additionally, in a 2007 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, he critiqued such things as “trade barriers, punitive taxes, artificial subsidies, and other market manipulations” that “may appear to some to be in the interest of US energy security.”
He also advocated for “a global free market for energy.”
His past statements stand in slight contrast to Trump’s position on trade. He has recently proposed stiff tariffs for American companies that ship jobs overseas and export their products back into the states, and he has called the potential TPP “a continuing rape of our country” while promising to end the agreement.
Last week at a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, rally as a part of his “Thank You Tour,” Trump said the US has “stupid trade.”
“Stupid trade. Stupid. It’s dumb,” he said.
In a statement to Business Insider, a prominent trade reform advocate expressed hope that Tillerson’s past position was based on his role as the head of Exxon Mobil, and that he will be supportive of Trump’s stated position now that Tillerson is a top administration official.
“Working-class voters made clear that stupid trade policies like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization made them poorer, not richer,” Michael Stumo, the CEO of Coalition for a Prosperous America, told Business Insider. “Mr. Tillerson is a bright man with admirable management and deal-making skills which he used to support Exxon Mobil. His prior support for the TPP did not reflect an understanding that trade deficits contract our economy and cost jobs while trade surpluses expand the economy and create jobs.”
“We hope, given the role of the State Department in trade issues,” Stumo continued, “that Mr. Tillerson will serve the interests and goals of his new boss as ably as he did his old boss.”
Serving on the board of Coalition for a Prosperous America is Dan DiMicco, the former CEO of Nucor who is leading Trump’s trade transition team and is considered to be a frontrunner for the post of US trade representative.
As secretary of state, Tillerson will have a big voice in US trade policy, although the negotiation of such deals will be under the purview of the trade representative.
Wilbur Ross, Trump’s nominee for Commerce Secretary and another past supporter of TPP, will apparently lead the effort to shape the trade agenda to be in line with Trump’s vision, Politico reported Tuesday. House Republicans have also expressed confidence that a Trump administration will focus on stricter enforcement of trade agreements, while not seeking to limit trade between the US and other nations.