WASHINGTON: The Trump administration will enforce trade rules more aggressively than any previous government in its efforts to reduce the trade deficit, but does not seek a dispute, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Tuesday.
Ross also said he hopes this week to resolve delays in Congress that will allow the White House to give formal notification of the intent to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which would start the 90-day clock.
The administration has not yet decided whether to keep NAFTA as a three-country deal "or to pursue two matching bilaterals," Ross said in a speech to business leaders and diplomats from around the Americas sponsored by the Council of the Americas.
NAFTA is "at best out of date and at worst did not accomplish some of its most important goals," Ross said of the trade pact that President Donald Trump calls a disaster for the United States.
And "any agreement can be updated to reflect changes in all the various economies, and to correct unintended oversights" from the original deal," he said.
On the administration's broader trade strategy -- frequently described as an "America First" policy -- Ross said "the goal is to increase overall trade while reducing our trade deficit," which means reducing barriers to US exports.
At the same time the Trump White House will pursue "stricter enforcement than any previous administration," he said.
"There is little point to trade agreement that is not honored."
However, and despite recent friction with Canada over dairy exports and softwood lumber imports, and with Mexico over sugar imports, Ross said, "We do not seek a trade war with anyone, least of all with our fellow citizens of the Americas.
The United States is the least protectionist of any major economy, especially compared to China and Korea, but Ross complained that any US trade action is portrayed in the media as protectionist.
US officials also will collect all trade duties levied on imports, Ross said, noting he was "horrified" to find billions of dollars in such fees were not collected from importers. (APP)