[A2k] FT: Trump gives Wilbur Ross wide trade policy powers

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sat Dec 10 01:38:31 PST 2016


<SNIP>


Mr Trump has agreed to give Mr Ross, a close friend, responsibility for
handling one of his signature campaign issues, the Financial Times has
learnt. The move, which would cut the influence of the US trade
representative, would boost the role of Commerce secretary, traditionally a
weak cabinet position. But it could face resistance in Congress where there
has been opposition to similar ideas in the past.

<SNIP>


Mr Trump will still appoint a USTR head. But the president-elect has backed
away from his campaign vow to bring all of the government officials
involved in trade policy into an “American Desk” at the commerce
department. One person familiar with the shift said Mr Ross would determine
trade priorities and that the USTR would be required to implement them.

<SNIP>


Congress has for decades aggressively guarded its constitutionally mandated
oversight of international trade. Sandy Levin, the senior Democrat on the
House ways and means committee, which has jurisdiction over trade, said a
reorganisation would be an unneeded distraction for the incoming
administration.

<SNIP>


The US Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate trade. The
legislature regularly delegates that authority to presidents, doing so most
recently in June 2015. But it also has rejected repeated attempts by
presidents to fold the office of the USTR into the commerce department or
otherwise reorganise the bureaucratic structures.

Since the position was first created in 1962, the USTR has been a part of
the president’s executive office, in a move that gives it additional
authority internationally. It has a reputation for being a lean operation,
in stark contrast to the sprawling commerce department, which has some
47,000 employees around the world.

--

https://www.ft.com/content/29973b68-be68-11e6-8b45-b8b81dd5d080

Trump gives Wilbur Ross wide trade policy powers

Boost to Commerce secretary’s role could spark battle with Congress


by: Shawn Donnan and Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

Donald Trump wants Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor tapped for
Commerce secretary, to oversee his trade policy, in a controversial move
that could spark a battle between the incoming administration and Congress.

Mr Trump has agreed to give Mr Ross, a close friend, responsibility for
handling one of his signature campaign issues, the Financial Times has
learnt. The move, which would cut the influence of the US trade
representative, would boost the role of Commerce secretary, traditionally a
weak cabinet position. But it could face resistance in Congress where there
has been opposition to similar ideas in the past.

“Secretary Ross will be our administration’s leader on setting many of our
trade priorities,” Jason Miller, the Trump transition team spokesman,
confirmed when asked by the FT about the move.

Mr Ross was one of the main architects of Mr Trump’s “America First” trade
policy. In interviews since the election, he has continued to be the most
vocal advocate for a wholesale rethinking of US trade policy. His role is
set to be formalised once the new administration starts in January,
according to the Trump transition team.

Mr Trump will still appoint a USTR head. But the president-elect has backed
away from his campaign vow to bring all of the government officials
involved in trade policy into an “American Desk” at the commerce
department. One person familiar with the shift said Mr Ross would determine
trade priorities and that the USTR would be required to implement them.

Mr Miller said the transition team was “still determining the exact lines
of responsibility between Commerce and USTR”. But he said that 79-year-old
Mr Ross would play a much larger role on trade policy than previous
commerce secretaries because of his relationship with Mr Trump and his role
shaping the president-elect’s trade message. He declined to comment on
whether the Trump team had discussed the move with Congress.

Mr Ross has been an outspoken critic of past trade agreements and has
argued that the US could better use its leverage as a major consumer market
to force countries to buy more US goods to help narrow the trade deficit.

“Free trade doesn’t mean dumb trade,” he told the FT in a recent interview.
“We should treat ourselves as the world’s biggest customer and treat
nations that are selling to us as suppliers to us.”

At a campaign rally in October, Mr Trump pledged a “major reorganisation of
our bureaucracy” to make Washington’s approach to trade more efficient.

Congress has for decades aggressively guarded its constitutionally mandated
oversight of international trade. Sandy Levin, the senior Democrat on the
House ways and means committee, which has jurisdiction over trade, said a
reorganisation would be an unneeded distraction for the incoming
administration.

“The main problem is not the organisational structure, it is the structure
of policy,” said Mr Levin. “Just throwing out this idea and that idea won’t
work. I’m not a big fan of thinking you can just restructure.”

By handing Mr Ross oversight over trade while maintaining the
administrative divisions, Mr Trump may still provoke a fight with the House
and Senate committees that have responsibility for trade in Congress. The
two key committees — the House ways and means committee and the Senate
finance committee — also have jurisdiction over tax reform, which is
another priority for the Trump administration.

Gary Hufbauer, an expert on US trade policy, said any effort by the Trump
administration to have Mr Ross lead on trade would mark a significant
departure and face opposition. “Even doing it informally will create some
friction with the congressional branch,” he said.

The US Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate trade. The
legislature regularly delegates that authority to presidents, doing so most
recently in June 2015. But it also has rejected repeated attempts by
presidents to fold the office of the USTR into the commerce department or
otherwise reorganise the bureaucratic structures.

Since the position was first created in 1962, the USTR has been a part of
the president’s executive office, in a move that gives it additional
authority internationally. It has a reputation for being a lean operation,
in stark contrast to the sprawling commerce department, which has some
47,000 employees around the world.



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