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  January 25th, 2018 | Written by

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: Is He in Trouble With Trump?

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  • Report: Trump has put Wilbur Ross out to pasture.
  • Trump’s dissatisfaction with Ross dates back to the early days of the administration.
  • White House: Ross is leading administration’s approach on steel, aluminum, intellectual property and trade.

One of the pillars of Trump administration trade policy has been enhanced enforcement of United States trade laws. The US Department of Commerce, under the leadership of Secretary Wilbur Ross, appears to be fulfilling that mandate.

According to the department, in the year since President Donald Trump took office, Commerce initiated 84 antidumping and countervailing duty investigations, a 62 percent increase from 52 in the previous year.

And yet, according to a report on Axios, Trump is not satisfied with the job Ross is doing, so much so that he has put “Ross out to pasture.”

As it turns out, Trump’s dissatisfaction with Ross dates back to the early days of the administration, when the nomination of Robert Lighthizer as US Trade Representative was hung up in the Senate for a while. During that time, Ross stepped in as the “go-to negotiator,” leading US efforts to in trade talks with the Chinese. Once Lighthizer was confirmed, there was something of a political brawl between Ross and Lighthizer, until the latter consolidated the trade negotiation portfolio under his control.

The main problem Trump had with Ross was over a deal to open the US market to cooked Chinese chicken in exchange for China opening its market to US beef, an accomplishment Ross described at the time as “herculean.” A chicken-for-beef deal was probably not what Trump had in mind in talks with the Chinese, given the myriad of trade issues that exist between the two countries, and he made his views clear to Ross.

“These trade deals, they’re terrible,” Axios quoted Trump as saying. “Your understanding of trade is terrible. Your deals are no good. No good.”

The White House pushed back on the Axios report, noting that “Ross is leading the administration’s approach on steel, aluminum, intellectual property and trade” and that the president has actually “expanded his responsibilities.” It’s not clear how the president has expanded Ross’s responsibilities given the secretary’s statutory authority to investigate alleged unfair trade practices and those that may impact national security, as is the case with the steel and aluminum cases.

No matter the White Houses protestations, the Axios reporter insists that “Ross bottomed out with Trump midway through last year” and that “he’s never fully regained his stature in Trump’s eyes.”