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REGULATION/LEGISLATION

Wilbur Ross confirmed as U.S. commerce secretary

Wilbur Ross Jr.
Wilbur L. Ross Jr.

Billionaire Wilbur L. Ross Jr., chairman and CEO of WL Ross & Co., a subsidiary of Invesco (IVZ), was confirmed as U.S. commerce secretary by the Senate, clearing the way for one of President Donald Trump's key trade officials to take office.

Mr. Ross's nomination was approved in a 72-27 Senate vote on Monday evening in Washington. He's slated to be officially sworn in on Tuesday at the White House.

Mr. Trump rode to victory in the primary and general elections last year in part on pledges to make trade more favorable for the U.S. economy and workers. With Mr. Ross now officially in the job, he can start working on his confirmation hearing promises to prioritize renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and level the playing field with China, which Mr. Ross called the “most protectionist” major nation.

Mr. Ross, 79, during his Senate testimony warned trading partners to practice “fair trade” and cut state control over business if they want access to the world's biggest economy.

“I am not anti-trade,” he said. “I am pro-trade. But I am pro-sensible trade, not trade that is detrimental to the American worker and to the domestic manufacturing base.”

During Mr. Ross's confirmation hearing on Jan. 18, Republican and Democratic senators alike appeared impressed by his business experience and knowledge of the issues. Sen. Bill Nelson, the ranking Democrat on the panel, called the hearing a “piece of cake” compared with the grilling endured by some of Mr. Trump's other cabinet nominees.

Asked about Mr. Trump's threat to impose a 35% import tariff on companies that shift jobs overseas, Mr. Ross suggested that some of the president's campaign promises should be seen as negotiating tactics, rather than policy pronouncements.

Mr. Ross will be one of the most seasoned business leaders on Trump's economic team. As a private equity investor, he restructured companies across a range of industries including steel, banking and textiles. Bloomberg values his fortune at $3 billion, and in financial disclosures released last month, he revealed assets topping $336 million, including at least $150 million held in bank accounts and an art collection worth more than $50 million.

In an ethics agreement released before his confirmation hearing, Mr. Ross said he'll resign his positions with 38 entities. Those include Invesco, which bought Mr. Ross's private equity firm in 2006, as well as seven named subsidiaries.