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Friday 23 February 2018

Senate confirms billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary

Senators said Wilbur Ross is divesting from much of his business empire (AP)
Senators said Wilbur Ross is divesting from much of his business empire (AP)

The US Senate has confirmed billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary as President Donald Trump adds to his economic team.

Breaking with Republican orthodoxy, Mr Ross said the Trump administration will work quickly to re-do the North American Free Trade Agreement - the massive trade pact with Canada and Mexico that has boosted trade but still affects laid-off workers across the Mid West.

Senators from both political parties were deferential to Mr Ross at his near four-hour confirmation hearing, which was much more subdued than the confirmation hearings of other Trump nominees.

Former commerce secretaries have praised him, including one who served under Barack Obama.

"Mr Ross will bring decades of business, entrepreneurial and civic experience to this important position," said senator John Thune, chairman of the Commerce Committee.

"I believe his extensive management experience in the private sector, and his understanding of the challenges faced by workers and businesses alike, will equip him well for the job of leading the Department of Commerce."

Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts criticised Mr Ross's business ties to Russia and the way he ran a mortgage lender during the housing crisis.

She said: "Mr Ross has extensive ties to Russia. He plans to keep making money from his major oil shipping companies while working as commerce secretary. He's made billions off the backs of struggling home owners.

"He is practically a cartoon stereotype of a Wall Street fat cat."

As part of his ethics agreement, Mr Ross is giving up his position at Diamond S Shipping, but he will retain a stake in the company, which ships petroleum and other products. As part of the agreement, he has promised not to take any action as commerce secretary that would benefit any company in which he has a financial interest.

At his confirmation hearing, Mr Ross was not asked about business ties to Russia or his work as a mortgage lender, and he did not address the issues.

Senators did note that he is divesting from much of his business empire.

Worth an estimated 2.9 billion dollars (£2.3 billion), Mr Ross has extensive business ties around the globe. In 2000, he founded WL Ross & Co, a private equity firm. As part of his ethics agreement, he will divest from the firm.

So far, the Senate has confirmed 15 out of 22 Trump cabinet or cabinet-level picks requiring confirmation.


Press Association

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