Impromptu Presser With Wilbur Ross Aboard Air Force One…


No reports from the press pool on this, and there is some important granular information, so here’s the transcript:

[Transcript] Aboard Air Force One – En Route Dubuque, Iowa – 11:27 A.M. EDT

GIDLEY: I know we’re about to land. We wanted to bring Secretary Ross back to have conversation about just what happened yesterday with the agreement with the European Union and steps moving forward, and what the President was able to do in that agreement.

So with that, I’ll turn it over to Secretary Ross, and he’ll take questions after. And if we could, let’s keep it to topic.

SECRETARY ROSS: Okay, thank you very much. I think you’ve heard the general outline of what was done yesterday, namely a commitment to move toward three zeros: zero tariffs, zero non-tariff trade barriers, and zero subsidies.

Basically, the idea that — is to level the playing field. Europe right now has much higher tariffs and much higher trade barriers than we do. Their trade barriers are both in the form of regulations that are not science-based, and standards that also are not science-based. So they have the practical net effect of keeping products out, even if they had no tariff at all.

The tariff barriers are considerable. On autos, they have 10 percent. We have two and a quarter percent. Obviously, that’s a very disjointed situation.

So going forward, the direction is pushing towards zero. That’s really where the President’s trade policies have always been heading. But to get there, we had to take a route of trying to make it more painful for the other parties to continue bad practices than to drop them. And that’s why he put up tariffs to put pressure on. And it seems to be starting to work.

I think if we hadn’t done the steel and aluminum tariffs, and if we hadn’t had the threat of automotive tariffs, we never would have gotten to the point where we are now. Ever since the President came into office, he’s told the EU he was willing to negotiate. It’s only now that they’ve been willing to come around.

So I think the first thing is, this is a real vindication that the President’s trade policy is starting to work. The more substantive thing is it’s the right direction. Because if we can roll out that whole formula to the rest of the world, our trade deficit will go down. We believe that American companies, and especially American farmers, can compete anywhere if they have a level playing field.

So I think it’s a very good move not just for the U.S. and not just for the EU, but for the whole global trading system.

♦ Q So what does this mean for the prospect of auto tariffs?

SECRETARY ROSS: Well, in terms of auto tariffs, we’ve been directed by the President to continue the investigation, get our material together, but not actually implement anything pending the outcome of the negotiations.

So the work is continuing. Probably sometime in the month of August we’ll be willing to render a report. It may not be necessary, or it may be necessary. We will see. But the work is continuing. Similarly, the steel and aluminum tariffs stay in place as we sit here.

♦ Q Secretary Ross, how long will the negotiation process, do you believe, take with the European Union?

SECRETARY ROSS: Well, that’s very hard to judge. Normally, trade discussions take multiple years. But that’s because they generally have one meeting and then pause for a month, have another meeting. So we’re going to try to do it much faster, just as NAFTA has been a much faster process than a normal trade discussion.

The other thing that should accelerate it: We’ve already set the guiding principles — the three zeros, getting toward the three zeros. Normally, it would take a long time to agree just what are the objectives of the negotiations.

Here, we have the big objectives set, so it’s more a question, how do you implement them? How do you achieve the goals to which both parties agree?

♦ Q Mr. Secretary, what do you say to the President’s supporters? Like, we’re going right now to the state of Illinois where the President is going to be celebrating this steel company’s expansion, but this is also a state –- we’re not far away from there — the biggest manufacturer of nails has been laying off people, they say, because of the President’s policies. What do you say to those people? Should they just suffer in the meantime?

SECRETARY ROSS: Well, if you look at the actual statistics, a lot more jobs are being created than destroyed. Look at the weekly unemployment figures, look at the weekly hirings, look at the weekly job openings.

There are some cases where people have been laid off. It’s not always because of tariffs. A lot of companies have been using the excuse, “Oh, the reason my earnings weren’t good is that there were the tariffs.” In many cases, that’s not the main reason. The main reason is there was something else going on in their overall picture.

But the actual numbers, week after week, do not show that employment is being hurt. To the contrary, employment is booming. The whole reason that we’ve initiated these new moves for workforce development, for apprenticeships, for learn-to-earn, is we now have fewer unemployment — no more unemployed people than the amount of job openings. That’s the first time in American history that we’ve had that.

So anybody who thinks that the steel and aluminum tariffs have been — this must be some unemployed worker shaking the plane — (laughs) — anyhow, anybody who thinks that it has hurt employment simply doesn’t read the weekly statistics. And they’re also not reading the — we’ll have very good numbers for the June period. Very good economic numbers.

GIDLEY: Let’s do a couple more.

♦ Q Why abandon T-TIP? If the idea is to have a trade deal with Europe, why walk away from T-TIP, which was being negotiated?

SECRETARY ROSS: Sorry, couldn’t hear.

GIDLEY: Why walk away from T-TIP, he said.

SECRETARY ROSS: Well, T-TIP, was going no place. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans had appetite for it. Remember — I’m sorry, about TPP you’re saying?

Q (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY ROSS: Oh — oh, T-TIP.

Q Yeah.

SECRETARY ROSS: Okay. Well, we haven’t walked away from T-TIP. We deliberately did not cancel the T-TIP negotiations when President Trump was elected. We did cancel TPP, and that was meant to be a deliberate signal to the European Union that we wanted to negotiate with them.

♦ Q Mr. Secretary, specifically just to clarify on the auto tariffs, when you say that they’re going to be held off on, are you just talking about the EU, or all of the auto tariffs will be in a holding pattern until the negotiations take place?

SECRETARY ROSS: Well, what we’ve agreed is not — basically not to impose automotive tariffs while the negotiations are underway. We have continued the steel and aluminum tariffs, and so there’s really no change in that situation. We weren’t ready to come to a conclusion on automotive anyway. It would be another month or so.

♦ Q Is it just the EU or other countries as well? Is the auto delay only for the EU, or also other countries?

SECRETARY ROSS: The whole work on the auto tariffs will continue. Depending on where we are with the EU, it might have an impact in what are the eventual conclusion. But we don’t have conclusions yet. We’re still in the process of the investigation.

GIDLEY: Thanks, everybody. I’ll come back in a second. I’m going to walk him out. We’re about to land. We might get it on the next leg.

END  – 11:36 A.M. EDT

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