(Adds details from speech)
By Lawrence Delevingne and Svea Herbst-Bayliss
BEVERLY HILLS, May 1 (Reuters) - U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Monday that there is no reason that the U.S. economy cannot grow more robustly if the Trump administration is successful in rolling back a number of regulations.
Speaking at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference, Ross said he would be “extremely disappointed” if the economy were growing only between 2.0 percent and 2.5 percent. He also said he hopes tax reform can be done this year.
He spoke only days after government data showed that the U.S. economy grew only 0.7 percent in the first three months of the year.
“If we can undo the shackles put on by regulations, there is no reason the economy can’t do much better than it’s been doing,” Ross told David Rubenstein, co-chief executive officer of private equity company The Carlyle Group.
Ross said he has known U.S. President Donald Trump for years and was impressed with his ability ever since the two met while negotiating the casino Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
Now he is working for the president to negotiate better trade deals and one of his biggest initiatives to redo the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), something Trump has called the worst trade deal. “The whole idea had always been to renegotiate NAFTA and that is what we will do.”
The administration has just imposed new tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber imports, Ross said because Canada was violating trade agreements.
“Violating trade practices is what imposed the fine. We were just the instrument that delivered the news,” Ross said, adding that “we tried very hard to negotiate a reasonable settlement but we did not get anywhere.”
The United States imported $5.7 billion worth of softwood lumber in 2016, mainly for home building.
Asked whether he thought this move might harm homebuilders by raising the price of new U.S. construction, Ross said price increases were being fueled more by other factors.
Home prices were rising both because of the market’s enthusiasm for Trump and because there had not been enough building in the past, he said. The S&P 500 has gained some 5.0 percent since Trump’s inauguration.
The Trump administration last week imposed lumber tariffs of 3 to 24 percent on Canada, its second largest trading partner. They will be collected retroactively for imports dating back 90 days. (with additional reporting by Michael Flaherty; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)