Commerce Secretary Declares ‘Now Time for Action’ on Tariffs

Wilbur Ross said President Donald Trump is ready to move against China, other nations if negotiations fail before they 'start gaming' system

It is “now time for action” on correcting China’s trade abuses and imposing tariffs, if necessary, on U.S. allies before the nations “start gaming the system,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” Tuesday.

President Donald Trump has long criticized China for its unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft. Trump announced plans in April to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, which spurred China to retaliate by unveiling its own tariffs on U.S. imports. Ross is traveling to China this week as part of a U.S. delegation to discuss trade issues and tariffs.

“There has been talking between the two countries for years and years and years,” Ross said. “President Trump is of the view it is now time for action.”

Noting that the United States’ trade deficit with China “is too big and too continuing,” Ross said the deficit was “too chronic — and inspired by evil practices” on China’s part.

When asked if he was “optimistic” about the outcome of the Trump administration’s talks in China, Ross replied, “I wouldn’t be going all the way over there if I didn’t think there was some hope.”

He warned, however: “I can’t prejudge these talks because they have been going on for a very long time.”

Trump approved tariff “moderations” Monday regarding the steel and aluminum tariffs, announced in March, that he intended to impose on U.S. trading partners. The U.S. reached a “final agreement” with South Korea on steel imports and “reached agreements in principle with Argentina, Australia and Brazil with respect to steel and aluminum, the details of which will be finalized shortly,” according to the White House Press Office.

“The administration is also extending negotiations with Canada, Mexico, and the European Union for a final 30 days,” the statement added. “In all of these negotiations, the administration is focused on quotas that will restrain imports, prevent transshipment, and protect the national security.”

Ross said the U.S. agreed to extend the deadline for imposing tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and E.U. countries because “we’re having some potentially fruitful discussions about an overall reduction in trade tensions.”

Related: Kudlow Says Trump ‘Doing Exactly the Right Thing’ with Chinese Tariffs

“What it means is that we’re getting into a whole lot of topics,” Ross said. “There are a lot of issues, and we’re hopeful that something good will come of out of it.”

Ross emphasized that the U.S. does not “have any intention of protracted extensions” beyond the 30-day extension agreed upon Monday.

“That defeats the whole purpose,” Ross said. “If we are going to impose it, we’ll have to do it pretty soon or else people will start gaming the system.”

PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter.