Five Tough Questions Wilbur Ross Must Answer

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Wilbur Ross, chairman and CEO of WL Ross & Co., in New York on October 7, 2010. Keith Bedford/reuters

This article first appeared on the Cato Institute site.

Today there will be a Senate confirmation hearing for President-elect Trump’s pick for Commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross.

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Here are some questions I would ask him. Some of these are designed to poke him a bit on inconsistent statements he has made. But for others, I’m just curious to see what exactly the Trump administration has in mind for its trade policy.

Regional vs. Bilateral Trade Agreements

You have been critical of regional trade agreements, and supportive of bilateral ones, and in this regard you once said,

The problem with regional trade agreements is you get picked apart by the first country. Then you negotiate with the second you get picked apart. And you go with the third one. You get picked apart again.

But you also praised the CAFTA-DR, a regional agreement, and criticized the bilateral U.S.-Korea trade agreement. Doesn’t your praise for CAFTA-DR and criticism of the U.S.-Korea agreement contradict your view that regional trade agreements are bad deals?

Also related to this point, other countries seem eager to negotiate regional deals. If they can engage in regional trade negotiations without getting picked apart, why can’t the U.S.?

And finally, with regard to your praise for CAFTA-DR and criticism of the U.S.-Korea FTA, these two agreements are based on the same model, and have very similar provisions. In your view, what were the substantive differences between the two agreements that led to different results?

Renegotiating NAFTA

You have talked about a NAFTA renegotiation on Day 1 of a Trump presidency. Can you tell us some of the specific provisions in NAFTA you don’t like and would want to see changed, and some of those you like and think should be maintained?

The TPP

In May 2016, you said that you did not agree with Donald Trump on the TPP,  saying that you “like[d] the TPP.” But now you are opposed to it. What changed your mind?

A U.S.-U.K. Trade Agreement

There has been a lot of recent talk about a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement. Do you support such an agreement? If so, would you hope to start these trade negotiations right away, or would they have to wait until after the U.K. completes its exit from the EU?

Foreign Investment Treaties

Trade gets most of the attention, but foreign investment is important too. The U.S. and China have been negotiating an investment treaty for many years.

Would you continue this effort? If so, what topics would you want to see included? What is your view of the investor-state dispute mechanism that is a key feature of U.S. investment treaties?

Simon Lester is a trade policy analyst with Cato’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies.