WASHINGTON – U.S. Commerce Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross on Wednesday urged Toyota Motor Corp. and other manufacturers to build more plants in the United States as part of efforts to reduce the U.S. trade deficit and increase employment.
Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing, Ross said, “The best way to deal with the trade deficit is increase exports,” and advocated a push “to get Toyota and other companies like that to build their factories here so that workers do have not only continued employment but enhanced employment.”
Ross, a billionaire private equity investor, said the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump can boost investment in the United States with tax cuts, deregulation and other incentives.
Ross also criticized China’s trade practices, saying the emerging power is “the most protectionist country” among large economies.
“They talk much more about free trade than they actually practice,” Ross said, referring to the country he said maintains “very high” tariff and nontariff trade barriers.
“We would like to level that playing field and bring the realities a bit closer to the rhetoric,” he said.
Ross did not refer to Trump’s threat to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports, but said countries that fail to provide a fair playing field should be punished severely.
“I think we should provide access to our market to those countries who play fair, play by the rules, and give everybody a fair chance to compete,” he said.
“Those who do not should not get away with it. They should be punished, and severely.”
Trump, who will be sworn in on Friday, has slammed China, the world’s second-largest economy, for what he sees as its currency manipulation and unfair trade practices including subsidies.
In reflection of his “America First” agenda, Trump earlier this month threatened to impose a “big border tax” on Toyota if the Japanese automaker goes ahead with a plan for a new plant in Mexico to produce Corolla cars for the U.S. market.
Toyota said that neither production volume nor employment in the United States would decline because of the planned investment in Mexico. Toyota also announced it will make a $10 billion investment in the United States over the next five years.
Speaking at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Ross said he is “pro-sensible” trade, and that he opposes trade that is detrimental to American workers and the domestic manufacturing base.
The commerce secretary-designate reiterated his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free trade agreement involving the United States, Japan and 10 other countries, and preference to bilateral deals.
“I think it’s easier and quicker to negotiate bilateral agreements than it is multilateral,” he said.
Citing Trump’s pledge to renegotiate the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico to get a better deal for American workers, Ross said NAFTA “is logically the first thing for us to deal with.”