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Trump nominee’s comment rattles peso, loonie

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Business investor Wilbur Ross, Jr., testifies during his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Commerce before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Getty

After the U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s commerce pick said that renegotiating NAFTA will be a priority, the currencies of both Mexico and Canada tumbled Wednesday.

Mexico’s peso sank to record low and Canada’s dollar posted the biggest slide since June after Wilbur Ross signaled new talks with those countries will begin quickly after Friday’s inauguration.

The peso is down 1.7 percent, at 21.89 per dollar, while the loonie is down 1.4 percent, at 1.33 per dollar as of Thursday afternoon.

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary nominee, said at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday that the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico would be an early priority for his department.

“NAFTA is logically the first thing for us to deal with,” he said, quoted in Washington media reports. “We ought to solidify relationships in the best way we can in our territory before we go off to other jurisdictions.”

He also called himself “pro-trade” as long as it is “sensible trade.”

Swift action

Canadian officials say the nominee for commerce secretary has indicated a formal-notification letter to open negotiations on NAFTA will be sent to Canada and Mexico within days of Friday’s presidential inauguration, according to the Globe and Mail.

A senior government official also told the Globe and Mail that its focus would largely be on Mexico.

A 79-year-old former banker, Ross had nearly four hours in front of a Senate committee, leaving little doubt that the new administration plans to reshape the U.S. approach to trade. He accused China and other countries of unfair trade practices, defended the use of tariffs and criticized provisions of existing trade agreements, including NAFTA.

Ross didn’t fully embrace some of Trump’s most extreme promises — such as his call for a 35 percent tariff on imports from companies that ship jobs overseas — but he argued that Trump’s rhetoric is a good negotiating strategy.

“The president has done a wonderful job preconditioning other countries with whom we will be negotiating that change is coming,” Ross said before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The commerce secretary oversees a sprawling bureaucracy that includes the Census Bureau, the Patent and Trademark Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but it is a relatively low-profile post. It’s the treasury secretary and various White House advisers who historically play a larger role in economic policymaking.

But the billionaire investor was a key architect of Trump’s policy on trade and other economic issues during the campaign. 

Ross has drawn scrutiny for his potential conflicts of interest, but senators spent little time on that. Rather, Ross was greeted relatively warmly by Democrats as well as Republicans, perhaps in part because he has drawn support from some labor leaders, according to fivethirtyeight.com.

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