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Wilbur Ross, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Commerce secretary, called himself “pro-trade” during his Wednesday confirmation hearing, but only so far as it is “sensible trade.”
Ross added that NAFTA will be an early target of his department, and that he was “very favorable” toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership until he “came across some things that were not consistent with what had been advertised.”
“We should not put up with malicious trading activities, state-owned enterprises or subsidized production,” Ross said, later pointing a finger at China. He called the nation “the most protectionist country of very large countries.”
The nominee told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that the US should only provide market access to “nations who agree to play by our standards of free trade” and that countries who do not should be “punished … severely.”
He also signaled some agreement with Trump on tariffs, as the president-elect has threatened to use them on companies – much to the dismay of congressional Republicans – who move jobs out of the country and then try to ship products back into the US.
Ross called tariffs a “negotiating tool” as well as something to use to “punish offenders who don’t play by the rules.”
The billionaire investor – who announced a plan to sell some of his holdings and step down from a series of companies should he be confirmed – makes up one-third of Trump’s top trade team, which also features outspoken China hawks Peter Navarro, as head of Trump’s newly formed White House National Trade Council, and Robert Lighthizer, as United States Trade Representative.
Trump made the renegotiation of US trade deals a centerpiece of his campaign, and he has accused China of “raping our country” and being at the head of the greatest “jobs theft” in history.