US Senate confirms Ross as Commerce Secretary

Mr Ross, a billionaire investor, is expected to make the renegotiation of Nafta his top priority.
Mr Ross, a billionaire investor, is expected to make the renegotiation of Nafta his top priority. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

WASHINGTON • The US Senate has confirmed billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary, installing a key leader for the Trump administration's plans to overhaul trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).

By a vote of 72-27, the Senate confirmed Mr Ross, who has already been advising President Donald Trump on economic policy and helping him to craft ways to rewrite the tax code.

The renegotiation of Nafta is expected to be Mr Ross' top priority when he takes over the job.

During his confirmation hearing in January, he warned that "all aspects" of the agreement between the United States and its northern and southern neighbours are on the table.

With the confirmation of Mr Ross, the most important members of Mr Trump's economic team are in place just in time for looming fights over the Budget, healthcare and tax legislation.

Mr Ross had his confirmation process move ahead with relative ease. He faced less resistance from Democrats than Mr Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, and Mr Andrew Puzder, whose nomination to lead the Labour Department was derailed.

A former Democrat, Mr Ross, 79, divested a significant portion of his holdings to avoid conflicts of interest before taking the helm at the Commerce Department. He also tried to temper some of Mr Trump's views on trade, attempting to ease concerns that the US is going to be engaging in trade wars.

"I am pro-trade, but I am pro-sensible trade," Mr Ross declared at his confirmation hearing. But he takes the job with lingering questions about how his business experience will mesh with Mr Trump's "America First" trade agenda.

As a private equity investor, he amassed a fortune by taking advantage of trade deals with countries such as China and Mexico.

He sent jobs to Mexico when he was the head of a car parts company, benefiting from some of the Nafta provisions that he will most likely be looking to unwind. And he maintains a minority stake in a company backed by the Chinese government.

Mr Ross has said that he wants to use his knowledge of the global economy to help improve the fortunes of lower- and middle-class Americans.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'US Senate confirms Ross as Commerce Secretary'. Print Edition | Subscribe