Wilbur Ross: Tariffs are about leveling the playing field

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," March 8, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

TRISH REGAN, GUEST HOST: President Trump signing tariffs for imported steel and aluminum.

Let's go right now to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Secretary Ross, congratulations.


REGAN: I know you wanted this. What kind of difference do you think it's going to make for American workers in their industries?

ROSS: I think it's going to make a huge difference, because this is the start of a process.

The process is aimed at leveling the playing field globally. Steel and aluminum have been particularly plagued by subsidized excess capacity, which led to dumping, led to displacement of domestic markets, led to all sorts of bad things.

The president has decided to take bold action to deal with it. And it's just the start of unleashing American industry from the unfair trade practices that have hounded us for years.

REGAN: Mr. Secretary, you know many, many, many people are worried about what they call a trade war. What do you say in response?

ROSS: I think the president proved by the statements that he made regarding Canada and Mexico we're not looking for a trade war. Those are two important trading partners. He's willing to negotiate with them to solve the problem in another way, other than tariffs, for those two countries, and potentially with other countries as well.

Our interests at the end of the day is in the end result. There's too much steel being produced on a subsidized basis. It's not fair competition. We need a level playing field, and this is a good start toward getting it. We need reciprocity in trade.

REGAN: Where do we go from here? I suppose he can use this as a negotiating tactic with every country that we're doing business with, correct?

ROSS: Sure.

And if every country would rally around, stop the trans-shipment, stop overproduction, stop all these unfair and inappropriate tactics, that would be a great solution. The U.S., through this, is going to start to reassert its leadership in solving trade problems in the world.

REGAN: But not just trade problems, right? I mean, if you think about it, Mr. Secretary, there's an opportunity to actually address some of the international issues that we're now facing.

You think about China, for example, the video of them still trading with the North Koreans, even though they signed on to sanctions. Is this an opportunity for the president to say, well, listen, we're serious about this? And we have some mighty economic power.

ROSS: Yes.

REGAN: So, if you're not with the program, then we have the ability to inflict some pain in an economic way.

ROSS: Well, anybody who doubts the president's sense of conviction and his willingness to be very, very aggressive really misses the boat. He is deadly serious.

These were campaign promises. And just like myriad other campaign promises he made, this president keeps his promises. And he will also keep his promise to fix other parts of the trade situation.

This is the first time an American government has really pushed back on this kind of scale. And it's taking some of the other countries, both our allies and those who are less allied with us, it's taking them a little while to realize this is not the old administrations in the U.S.

This is a different administration. It's forceful, it is determined, it's serious, it's thoughtful, it's deliberative about the issues. But make no mistake about it. At the end of the day, we need and we will get lower trade deficits, and we will stop exporting jobs and start exporting more products instead.

REGAN: You took a little heat for holding up the soup, the can of -- I the it was Campbell's Soup there. There you are.

Some members of the media didn't like that. Do you regret it?

ROSS: Do I regret it? No.

I think it brought a very clear message to people that these increases in cost of steel and aluminum are trivial. And you will notice neither these soup industry, nor the candy industry, nor the beer industry, nor the soda industry, not one of them has said my numbers were wrong.

But if I just went on TV and spewed a whole bunch of numbers, nobody would notice. Holding up those cans, people noticed and they could focus on how trivial -- a fraction of a penny on a can of Campbell's Soup, that's going to cause the world to come to an end? Not a chance.

REGAN: Are you going to miss Gary Cohn at all?

ROSS: Pardon me?


REGAN: Are you going to miss Gary Cohn at all?

ROSS: Well, Gary Cohn is a very capable person. He performed very valuable services while he was in the government. I'm sure he will find a wonderful career back probably on Wall Street and, who knows, back in the administration, a future one or this one, at some other time in some other role.

This is not about a personal war. This is about how a war to protect the American worker. This is about leveling the playing field globally. It's not about internecine warfare at the White House.

REGAN: And yet you have got the likes of the Koch brothers out today with an op-ed saying this is going to be disastrous for our economy and that it's going to hurt so many sectors.

Are they overreacting? We know the market closed up nearly 100 points today, despite these tariffs being signed.

ROSS: Sure.

Well, they are overreacting. The total amount of the tariffs, assuming that all the goods still came in and everybody paid the tariff on them, is $9 billion. That is the maximum impact on the overall economy.

That is a fraction of 1 percent. It's not even a half of 1 percent. So, anybody who thinks that this economy is so fragile that a one-half of 1 percent maximum price increase is going to affect anything, I just don't buy it.

Further, I don't think the full tariffs will be passed on. You had the fellow from Nucor, I think, on earlier. Or someone did. And he explained-- and I used to be in the steel industry, so I know very well.

REGAN: I know you did.

ROSS: The more important factor here is increased production, not increased prices.

Increasing production is what builds jobs. And it's what gives the most profitability, because you now only have to absorb the incremental costs of that extra production. You don't -- you have already absorbed the fixed costs.

So there's going to be fierce competition to capture that additional volume, because these industries are operating at very low percentages of capacity. So there's going to be fierce competition to get that volume.

And I think that's the best free market solution to why the tariffs won't be fully passed on.

REGAN: All right, we will all be watching all of it.

Thank you very much. It's good to see you, Wilbur Ross.

ROSS: Good to see you, Trish.




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