WASHINGTON Feb 27 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 and Mexico.
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
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
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
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 technologies.
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 America.
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.
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)