President Donald Trump recently nominated Wilbur Ross to serve as U.S. Secretary of Commerce. With Ross’ confirmation by the Senate on February 27, 2017, economists are already looking at what the appointment will mean for businesses across the country—including here in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Most of the discussions that took place during the congressional hearings focused on the foreign trade policies that President Trump’s administration would likely pursue, along with strategies that could improve infrastructure domestically and other industry needs.

Ross’s previous experience includes service in the U.S. Army and work in consolidating failing steel companies into a company now known as International Steel Group. The latter experience made him one of the most influential figures in the realm of global finance.

Potential impact on business

Ross has experience conducting business in 23 different countries, and he’s known for being skilled at negotiating foreign trade agreements that are beneficial to the U.S. economy. He is likely to put America first in regards to business deals, saying at one point that he is “not pro-trade or anti-trade, but pro-sensible trade.” He defines this as trade that’s good for American businesses and workers alike.

Ross is likely to be much more involved in negotiating trade agreements for the Trump administration than those who have previously held his position. Much of his work might reflect tasks typically overseen by the U.S. trade representative. Ross mentioned during hearings that neither he nor the President intend to do anything in violation of the trade representative’s mandates, and that it was a sensible decision to bring in the intellectual resources he possesses to resolve various trade issues that will arise during his tenure.

We can expect Ross to play a role in President Trump’s promise to revisit and potentially back out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). When asked about the deal, Ross was quoted as saying that “we need to solidify relationships in the best way that we can in our own territory before we go off to other jurisdictions.”

Ross could also be a key figure in analyzing foreign trade policies with China, which he has described as “the most protectionist country” out of all the world’s major powers. Finally, the Trump administration could form bilateral trade agreements with various foreign nations, as they are quicker and easier to negotiate compared to multilateral agreements.

One thing is clear, Ross is likely to have a greater impact on the business world than many of the U.S. Commerce secretaries that came before him. That could have interesting effects on the business community and the economy overall.


Steven K. Hardy is Chair of the Corporate, Tax & Estate Planning Practice Group at BoltNagi, a highly respected business and corporate law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.