By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is expected to name Wilbur Ross, a billionaire known for his investments in distressed industries, to head the Commerce Department, a Republican source familiar with the decision told Reuters on Tuesday.
An announcement on Ross to lead the department, which pursues anti-dumping cases against cheap foreign imports, could come as early as Wednesday, NBC News said.
Ross declined to comment to Reuters on Tuesday.
Ross, 78, a staunch supporter of Trump and an economic adviser, has helped shape the Trump campaign’s views on trade policy, blaming the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico and the 2001 entry of China into the World Trade Organization for causing massive U.S. factory job losses.
“I think there’s a big difference between the impact of trade agreements on corporate America and the impact on Mr. and Mrs. America,” Ross told CNBC in an interview earlier this year. “Corporate America has adjusted to them by investing lots of capital offshore.”
Ross, whose net worth was pegged by Forbes at about $2.9 billion, heads the private equity firm, W.L. Ross & Co in New York.
Ross’ connections to Trump date back to 1990, when as a turnaround expert for Rothschild and Co he worked on behalf of bondholders to help engineer a restructuring of hundreds of millions of dollars in debt owed on Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In 2002, by then in charge of his own private equity firm, Ross formed International Steel Group to consolidate several bankrupt steelmakers, including Bethlehem Steel, Acme Steel and LTV Steel. He sold the company in a $4.5 billion deal two years later to Mittal Steel.
Ross retains a stake in what is now part of the world’s largest steel company, Arcelor Mittal, and sits on its board of directors.
BUSINESS INTERESTS COULD POSE QUESTIONS
His various business interests, which also include automotive components and textiles, could make avoiding conflicts of interest a complicated prospect as the head of an agency with broad influence over trade cases and U.S. industrial policies.
Arcelor Mittal has benefited from several recent anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties imposed by the Commerce Department against a wide range of steel products from China, South Korea, Japan, Britain, Turkey and other countries. Those have helped lift domestic steel prices, boosting the company’s bottom line.
Ross may also face questions from lawmakers over the January 2006 Sago coal mine disaster in West Virginia that killed 12 miners in an explosion and collapse. Owned by a subsidiary of one of his companies, International Coal Group, the mine had been cited for more than 200 safety violations
International Coal was sold for $3.4 billion in 2011 to No. 2 U.S. coal miner Arch Coal, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January amid plummeting coal prices.
He could be questioned as well over a $2.3 million fine his firm agreed to pay in August to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle accusations it did not properly disclose some fees that it charged investors.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in New York and Emily Stephenson in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)