Commerce Secretary Bullish on Trade Talks with Mexico

Wilbur Ross tells Laura Ingraham that negotiations with incoming Mexican leader are 'exactly the reverse' of expectations

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressed optimism Thursday that the United States and Mexico soon will wrap up trade negotiations.

The countries, along with Canada, have been trying to reach terms of an update to the nearly 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The United States has found Canada to be a difficult negotiating partner, but Ross said on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that talks are proceeding much more smoothly with Mexico.

Ross (pictured above) said negotiators on both sides are working to lock down agreement on the last few items.

“Those are important items, but they’re relatively small in number … That augurs well for the speed of the talks,” he said. “So I’m optimistic that sometime in coming weeks we have a very good chance to have a deal with Mexico.”

Many analysts had predicted doom for U.S.-Mexico trade talks after the fiery leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the Mexican presidential election last month. López Obrador has been highly critical of the American president and last year even wrote a confrontational book, called “Listen Up, Trump.”

But Ross said predictions that negotiations would fall apart have not come to pass.

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“Exactly the reverse is what’s happening,” he said. “The new president almost immediately picked his trade team, is having them work in concert with the former president’s trade team, and has made clear they’re satisfied with all the negotiations that have been negotiated thus far.

“Unless it’s a marked improvement from NAFTA 1.0 to NAFTA 2.0, we won’t do it.”

Shortly after his election, López Obrador extended an olive branch to Trump on trade, writing, “Prolonging the uncertainty could slow down investments in the medium- and long-term.”

Quick agreement on a new trade deal would be good for the United States, Ross said, but he added that the administration is not abandoning its “America First” approach.

“Unless it’s a marked improvement from NAFTA 1.0 to NAFTA 2.0, we won’t do it,” he said.

Ross said Trump is pursuing an aggressive strategy with the source of America’s other thorny trade dispute — China — and will not back down on that, either.

“He wants to increase the pain level on China to the point where they will find it less painful to adopt the measures we want than to continue with their practices,” he said.

“That’s the purpose of the whole exercise, is eventually to have a more open playing field, get away from the technology transfers that they’re forcing on our companies, get away from all these untoward, illegitimate practices that are hurting American workers and American farmers,” Ross continued.

Ross rejected critics who contend that Trump is a protectionist who is turning away from traditional Republican policies on trade.

Related: How Mexico’s Election Uprising Could Sour NAFTA Talks

“Free trade is the end result that the president is seeking,” he said. “He’s made that clear at the [Group of 7 summit]. He’s made it clear repeatedly in his public addresses. But the dirty truth is, there is no free trade. China and the European Union are highly protectionist counties. They talk free trade, but they practice extreme protectionism in terms of high tariffs and high nontariff trade barriers.”

Ross said the cooking U.S. economy could tumble if the Federal Reserve Board were to raise interest rates too quickly. But he said the experts criticizing Trump are the same who insisted the economy could not grow at a 4 percent clip and that tax cuts would not work.

Ross said the average worker who sees more money in his paycheck knows that claim is false.

“That guy is hard to fool. That guy knows what’s really happening,” he said. “And that’s why consumer confidence is so strong. It’s why consumer spending is so strong. It’s why people are starting to come back into the workforce. Those are dynamics that are not suddenly going to change.”

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