Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross promised on Friday that the administration would soon move more aggressively to enforce trade rules.
“In the next week or so you’re going to start to see a lot more out of us on enforcement,” Ross said in an interview with CNBC. “I think it’s ridiculous to go to all the trouble to bring a trade case, win it and not enforce it against the other party. We will be a very strong enforcer of it.”
Ross said one of the “shocks” he felt upon taking office came when he learned “that there are billions of dollars of countervailing duties that have been imposed because we won the cases, but never collected.”
Ross was also asked about the most “egregious” aspects of NAFTA in the eyes of the Trump administration, and his first answer involved what he called “far too lenient” rules of origin.
“I think those can get tightened up quite a bit,” he said.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, to which Mexico, the U.S. and Canada were parties until President Trump withdrew the U.S., addressed rules of origin “a bit,” Ross said, adding, “so there’s clearly some room there” for improvement.
Secondly, Ross noted that a goal behind NAFTA at its signing was a gradual convergence of living standards between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada – and that, he said, hasn’t happened in Mexico, with workers there barely better off today.
Finally, Ross noted the recent decline of the peso – which he attributed in part to concern over NAFTA – and said he thought NAFTA talks could help make the exchange rate a “bit more stable.”
“I believe that if we and the Mexicans make a very sensible trade agreement, the Mexican peso will recover quite a lot,” he said.
During the wide-ranging interview, Ross also allowed that the administration continues to view the idea of a border adjusted tax plan with both interest and skepticism.
“We need to do something to balance the budget,” he said, with border adjustment “certainly one powerful instrument for doing that.”
“Let’s see what else evolves,” he said.