Trump’s Commerce Secretary Pick Calls for ‘Systematic’ Re-Negotiation of Trade Deals

Wilbur Ross AP

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, called for a periodic re-evaluation of U.S. trade agreements during his confirmation hearing, implicitly criticizing the idea that outsourcing was the last hope—and ultimate fate—of the U.S. economy.

“Too often we negotiate trade agreements, and they’re designed to level the playing field in regard to tariffs, but in all the other issues a country can bring to play, we high-five ourselves with the satisfaction of reaching a trade agreement, but we missed the point of defending, and fighting, the other things that prevent our products from getting into other countries,” said Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran. “And it seems compatible with what you’ve been testifying.”

“Oh, it is,” Ross replied. “I’ve been a victim, over the years, of some of these… trade barriers. And they’re quite insidious. But they’re also, fortunately—they can be quite effective.

“We need to deal with those,” he continued. “It’s not enough to have a trade agreement that just hits tariffs. And it’s one of the reasons I think there should be systematic re-openers of trade agreements, after a few year period. Because it’s hard to anticipate the ingenuity that some of these folks have to get around the intent of the agreement. So I think an automatic re-opener, whether it’s a sunset provision or just a re-opener, would be a very useful thing. To look back on what was originally contemplated, look back on what was originally projected to occur. And to say, ‘Well, we didn’t achieve those objectives. Why not? And what do we need to do to fix them?'”

“I think an agreement like NAFTA, [which] is more than 40 years old, and there’s never been a systematic, transparent review of it,” Ross added.

Ross wants a re-negotiation of NAFTA.

“NAFTA is logically the first thing for us to deal with. We must solidify relationships in the best way we can in our own territory before we go off to other jurisdictions,” he said. “That will be a very, very early topic in this administration. I think all aspects of NAFTA will be put on the table.”