The US Senate confirmed billionaire banker and investor Wilbur L. Ross as Commerce secretary, installing a key leader for the Trump administration's plans to overhaul trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Like Trump, Ross has been an outspoken critic of free trade agreements and feels the deals have hurt working-class Americans.
Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office to Ross after the Senate voted 72 to 27 in favor of his confirmation on Monday.
Ross is known in Japan for his takeover and restructuring of Kofuku Bank, an Osaka-based regional bank that went under in 1999, among other investments in Japanese companies.
While commerce secretaries rarely take the spotlight in Washington, Ross is expected to play an outsize role in pursuing Trump's campaign pledge to slash USA trade deficits and bring manufacturing jobs back to America.
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The new commerce chief, however, may take a tough stance toward Japan, with which the United States had its second-largest trade deficit after China a year ago.
During his confirmation hearing in mid-January, Ross pushed for taking a tough stance on China, which he called the "most protectionist country of very large countries".
Some experts said Ross could serve as a counterweight to advisers such as Peter Navarro, the University of California-Irvine economics professor who heads Trump's newly created White House National Trade Council.
Ross is a successful investor who made a career out of turning around failing companies.
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The figures, which have not previously been disclosed, amount to a small fraction of the USA economy, which sees employment fluctuate by the tens of thousands of jobs each month. As part of his ethics agreement, Ross will divest from the firm, if confirmed.
Ross has also sought to ease concerns about whether the White House would try to politicize climate science. A renegotiation of NAFTA is expected to be Ross' top priority when he takes over the job, the New York Times reported.
In 2000 Ross founded private equity firm WL Ross & Co, and is now worth approximately $2.9bn.
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