Billionaire businessman and former banker Wilbur Ross, Jr., nominated to be President-elect Donald Trump's commerce secretary, testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday during his confirmation hearing. Ross said at the hearing he intends to make NAFTA one of the first orders of business when he takes office, if confirmed. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 18 (UPI) -- President-elect Donald Trump's choice for commerce secretary said at his confirmation hearing Wednesday that a 20-year-old trade agreement among the United States, Canada and Mexico will be one of the first orders of business once he takes office.
In testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., acknowledged the North American Free Trade Agreement must be "dealt with."
The sweeping pact, enacted in 1994 under former President Bill Clinton, solidifies trade status among the three nations and eliminates certain restrictions -- and is generally intended to bolster the intra-continental economies.
Trump has said he plans to renegotiate and improve NAFTA quickly, but also said he isn't afraid to walk away from it if it can't be upgraded to better serve the United States.
Wednesday, Ross indicated that he holds a similar view.
"We ought to solidify relationships the best way we can in our territory," Ross said at his hearing.
Ross added that U.S. economic doors should be open to every country that "plays by the rules," and those that don't should be severely punished.
"I am not anti-trade. I am pro-trade," he continued. "But I am pro-sensible trade, not pro-trade that is to the disadvantage of the American worker and the American manufacturing community."
The U.S. trade representative usually plays a large role in crafting policy, and Ross said that will continue to be the case.
At his hearing, Ross also addressed concerns about sending U.S. jobs overseas -- and answered questions about whether some of his private business moves have resulted in U.S. job losses to foreign countries.
It has been reported that nearly 3,000 jobs have left the United States as a result of Ross' industry moves, to Mexico and other nations.
Ross, 79, countered those reports with testimony that many of his commercial maneuvers have actually facilitated U.S. job growth.
"If we had not begun some foreign operations, we would have had to shut down far more domestic activities," he said.
If Ross is approved by the commerce panel, he needs a simple majority in the full Senate to assume the Cabinet post.