Tags: Wilbur Ross | NAFTA | trade | China

Wilbur Ross: We Need Congress to Approve Talks on 'Ancient' NAFTA

By    |   Monday, 01 May 2017 12:23 PM

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the Trump administration is waiting for Congress to grant trade promotion authority to push ahead on renegotiating trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Canada and Mexico want to move forward on the talks, particularly since Mexico has a presidential election next year, Ross told CNBC in an interview. He said NAFTA is ripe for reform.

“NAFTA is an ancient treaty. It's decades old. Neither our economy nor the Mexican nor the Canadian economies are remotely similar to what they were back when the deal was done,” Ross said. “There's nothing in it really about the digital economy. There's relatively little in it about the service economy.”

The Trump administration last week startled investors and business leaders as several aides said officials were considering issuing an order that would begin the six-month process of having the U.S. withdraw from the three-nation trade agreement, The Wall Street Journal reported. Trump made a major campaign issue out of trade deals such as NAFTA, blaming them for destroying U.S. factory jobs.

By Wednesday night, the White House walked back the threats with a statement saying Trump had decided “not to terminate NAFTA at this time.”

“The president encourages lively discussion within the White House and between the White House and the cabinet,” Ross said. “In the course of those discussions, all kinds of alternatives come up. And I think what's unfortunate is someone leaked one of the many potential papers that was floating around and created a whole skirmish over something that had not been decided upon by the president.

Saturday marked the 100th day of the Trump presidency, a milestone that he had touted during the campaign when describing his goals. Ross defended the administration’s accomplishments.

“The reason that we haven't had the formal negotiations on NAFTA is very simply that Congress has prevented us from doing so. It's very hard to blame the president for something outside of his control,” Ross said. “But what we have done in terms of trade is quite a lot of things. We have brought quite a few more trade cases than had been before. We levied a $1 billion fine on Canada for dumping soft wood. We levied on the export side a $900 million fine on XTE, the second-largest China telecom company for violating the sanctions against North Korea and Iran. And we have done a million other things.”

China, North Korea Talks

Ross also said that Trump’s discussions with China are productive on several issues, such as defusing the North Korean nuclear threat and encouraging bilateral trade.

Trump discussed relations with China in a weekend interview with CBS, saying, “[Chinese] President Xi is working to try and resolve a very big problem, for China also, and that's North Korea. Frankly, North Korea is maybe more important than trade. Trade is very important. But massive warfare with millions, potentially millions of people being killed? That, as we would say, 'trumps' trade."

Ross provided CNBC with his interpretation of Trump’s statements on China.

"What the president was trying to say was we're trying to have an overall constructive relationship with China on a variety of topics — the most pressing of which because he involves human lives is the North Korea situation,” Ross said. “I don't think he meant to indicate at all that he intends to trade away America jobs just for help with North Korea."

Ross, 79, is a billionaire and seasoned financier with first-hand experience in facing off with foreign competitors. He specialized in restructuring distressed companies, such as in the steel, banking and textile industries.  

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Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the Trump administration is waiting for Congress to grant trade promotion authority to push ahead on renegotiating trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement.Canada and Mexico want to move forward on the talks,...
Wilbur Ross, NAFTA, trade, China
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2017-23-01
Monday, 01 May 2017 12:23 PM
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