Trump's Commerce pick Wilbur Ross is no stranger to protectionism

Tue Jan 10, 2017 6:24pm EST
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By Roberta Rampton and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When billionaire investor Wilbur Ross salvaged two North Carolina textile mills from bankruptcy in 2003 and 2004, one of the first things he did was head to Washington to immerse himself in trade law and policy.

China's accession to the World Trade Organization had unleashed a flood of textile imports across U.S. borders, and Ross - now President-elect Donald Trump's pick for commerce secretary - took an unusual hands-on approach, advocating for "safeguard" tariffs to help the ravaged domestic industry.

"He was not the first outside investor to come into the industry and buy a major asset. He was the first and to my knowledge only major outside investor who took on that same sort of attitude that the more home-grown CEOs had,” said Auggie Tantillo, who has lobbied for textile makers in Washington for almost 40 years.

Ross' history owning and defending embattled steel and textile manufacturing companies that have relied on border duties to protect their industries means he will bring a unique approach to the commerce secretary job, departing from the traditional role of cheerleading for free trade and big business.

In a questionnaire ahead of a U.S. Senate hearing to review his nomination - which had been slated for Thursday - Ross said he had owned or had a significant stake in more than 100 businesses over 55 years.

Forbes has estimated his fortune at $2.9 billion. Ross has not yet provided the Senate with financial disclosures or an ethics agreement to prevent conflicts of interest.

Late on Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee said it would postpone Ross' hearing until Jan. 18 to give more time to ethics officials to do their work.

Ross is one of three wealthy Trump picks to run into delays with the vetting process. Education nominee Betsy DeVos and Labor pick Andrew Pudzer have also had their Senate hearings pushed back.   Continued...

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, chairman of Invesco Ltd subsidiary WL Ross & Co, departs Trump Tower after a meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in New York, U.S., November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo