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Commerce pick urges Toyota, others to build more plants in U.S.


U.S. Commerce Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross on Wednesday urged
Toyota Motor Corp. and other manufacturers to build more plants in
the United States as part of efforts to reduce the U.S. trade deficit
and increase employment.
Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing, Ross said, "The
best way to deal with the trade deficit is increase exports," and
advocated a push "to get Toyota and other companies like that to
build their factories here so that workers do have not only continued
employment but enhanced employment."
Ross, a billionaire private equity investor, said the incoming
administration of President-elect Donald Trump can boost investment
in the United States with tax cuts, deregulation and other incentives.
Ross also criticized China's trade practices, saying the
emerging power is "the most protectionist country" among large
economies.
"They talk much more about free trade than they actually
practice," Ross said, referring to the country he said maintains
"very high" tariff and nontariff trade barriers.
"We would like to level that playing field and bring the
realities a bit closer to the rhetoric," he said.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying
hit back at his remarks, saying that the actual situation is quite
the opposite.
She argued that China is one of the most active countries
promoting free trade in the world.
"Under the current circumstances, who is really pushing forward
liberalization of trade and investment and who is implementing
protectionism?" Hua said. "I think everybody sees clearly. The answer
is probably just the opposite of Mr. Ross."
Ross did not refer to Trump's threat to impose punitive tariffs
on Chinese imports, but said countries that fail to provide a fair
playing field should be punished severely.
"I think we should provide access to our market to those
countries who play fair, play by the rules, and give everybody a fair
chance to compete," he said.
"Those who do not should not get away with it. They should be
punished and severely."
Trump, who will be sworn in on Friday, has slammed China, the
world's second-largest economy, for what he sees as its currency
manipulation and unfair trade practices including subsidies.
In reflection of his "America First" agenda, Trump earlier this
month threatened to impose a "big border tax" on Toyota if the
Japanese automaker goes ahead with a plan for a new plant in Mexico
to produce Corolla cars for the U.S. market.
Toyota said that neither production volume nor employment in the
United States would decline because of the planned investment in
Mexico. Toyota also announced it will make a $10 billion investment
in the United States over the next five years.
Speaking at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and
Transportation, Ross said he is "pro-sensible" trade, and that he
opposes trade that is detrimental to American workers and the
domestic manufacturing base.
The commerce secretary-designate reiterated his opposition to
the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free trade agreement
involving the United States, Japan and 10 other countries, and
preference to bilateral deals.
"I think it's easier and quicker to negotiate bilateral
agreements than it is multilateral," he said.
Citing Trump's pledge to renegotiate the terms of the North
American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico to get a better
deal for American workers, Ross said NAFTA "is logically the first
thing for us to deal with."
Ross is known in Japan for his takeover and restructuring of
Kofuku Bank, an Osaka-based regional bank that went under in 1999,
among other investments in Japanese companies. (Jan. 19)