Wilbur Ross was recently confirmed as Trump’s Secretary of Commerce, amidst mixed controversy and success in his first days.
Ross’s first days in office have been spent implementing one of Trump’s first executive orders, which mandated at least two government regulations on business be removed for every one put into action by his administration.
“Many of these were put in by executive orders and by agency rules, and those wouldn’t require acts of Congress [to remove],” Ross said. “So we are up to our eyeballs in trying to make sure we identify all the problems. So it’s a lot to do there. I think that will be one of the most fruitful areas that the administration can attack quickly.”
Further, Ross has been working on a proposal to lower taxes on goods and materials exported by American companies, while simultaneously raising taxes on imports, in order to encourage local economic growth.
Work has also been in progress in re-negotiating NAFTA to limit imports from outside the trade agreement while keeping the treaty intact, primarily focusing on altering trade with Mexico, while Canadian trade relations will only recieve minor changes.
Ross stated, “The first emphasis will be on facilitating U.S. exports to other countries, getting rid of both tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. The other side of that will be preventing illegally subsidized goods from coming in, and really enforcing it.”
A surge in the value of the Mexican peso has also occurred, attributed in part to Ross’s efforts on solidifying trade relations, raising 1.9%, its first major increase since early 2016.
“The peso has fallen a lot, mainly because of the fear of what will happen with NAFTA,” Ross said. “I believe that if we and the Mexicans make a very sensible trade agreement, the Mexican peso will recover quite a lot.”
Ross’s plans for economic development are focused close to home, with only tentative feelers being put out towards issues abroad.
“The U.S. isn’t talking with China yet about trade,” Ross said. “The first on our agenda is NAFTA because we think it makes sense to solidify your own neighborhood first.”
Ross has also taken a strong stance on World Trade Organization regulations, stating he will value sovereignty over the WTO’s regulations, and will not hold America to the organization’s decisions if it wouldn’t benefit the country.
Controversy has arisen over potential connections between Wilbur Ross and the Russian government, due to his holdings in a Cyprus bank. In the 2014 financial crisis, he led a group of investors to bail out the bank, which has significant investments from members of Putin’s administration and inner circle.
Ross has cut direct ties with the bank, resigning his place on the board, due to his appointment as Secretary of Commerce, but worry about potential Russian influences still remains.
“Cyprus banks have a long and painful history of laundering dirty money from Russians involved with corruption and criminality,” Elise Bean, former senate investigator into financial crimes, said in an interview with McClatchy news. “Buying a Cyprus bank necessarily raises red flags about suspect deposits, high-risk clients and hidden activities.”
Despite inquiries by Democratic senators and news outlets, Ross has declined to comment, with the White House also sitting on potential responses.
Moving forward, Ross has stated his hopes for more bipartisan work in DC, aiming to improve relations between parties on economic issues.
“We need to do something to balance the budget,” Ross said. “Given the very partisan atmosphere in Washington now, reconciliation is probably the only way we can get things through things like tax relief.”