Wilbur Ross promised Wednesday that as Commerce secretary he would be open to trade on conditions that were favorable to U.S. interests.
Those who violate trade rules, he said during his confirmation hearing, should be “severely punished.”
“I think that we cannot afford trade that is inherently bad for American workers and American businesses,” he said.
Touting his experience with trade across multiple industries, the billionaire investor in distressed companies said the U.S. “should provide that access to nations who agree to play by our standards of free trade.”
“So I am not anti-trade. I am pro-trade,” he said in remarks prepared for his hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “But I am pro-sensible trade, not trade that is detrimental to the American worker and to the domestic manufacturing base.”
Ross runs W.L. Ross & Co., and his resume includes rescuing companies in the steel, coal and telecom businesses, among others — though his restructuring efforts have included layoffs. Some of the bigger names have been International Steel Group, Lear and International Textile.
Ross detailed instances where his companies have had to offshore some jobs due to manufacturing requirements. However, he said those have been exceptions. He included “saving the American steel industry” as one of his proudest achievements.
“I believe if you add or subtract we have been a very large net creator of jobs during this whole period in the United States,” Ross said.
Promoting exports, which are about 13 percent of the U.S. economy, is his “No. 1 objective.”
His trade views will be critical as he works for a president who has been skeptical of U.S. trade agreements with other countries. President-electDonald Trump has said he would slap tariffs on companies that he feels aren’t practicing fair trade, and Wall Street forecasts repeatedly have listed the possibility of a global trade war as the biggest risk under the new administration.
“I think I’ve probably had more direct experience than any prior Cabinet nominee has had with unfair trade in the steel business, in the textile business, in the auto parts business and other sectors,” Ross said. “I am very well aware of the issues many companies face, and I’m sensitive to both the issues abroad and the issues here at home.”
He also said he has met with tech executives and was “amazed” at how similar their problems are in dealing with foreign competition.
In addition to trade duties, Ross said he will focus on the department’s other objectives, particularly providing accurate weather reports and supplying data