WASHINGTON — Former textile, jewelry and steel industry executives are said to be in the running for President-elect Donald Trump’s top trade cabinet slots.
Trump espoused trade skepticism and pro-U.S. manufacturing views throughout his campaign so it follows that he will likely fill his top trade cabinet positions with officials aligned with that stance.
One front-runner for the U.S. Trade Representative’s cabinet position is said to be Dan DiMicco, former chief executive officer of Nucor Steel, who many said mirrors Trump’s trade philosophy.
DiMicco, who was tapped as a trade adviser by Trump during the campaign, is the author of a book titled “American Made: Why Making Things Will Return Us to Greatness,” in which he made the case for the revival of U.S. manufacturing and competitiveness.
DiMicco has also been a critic of the free-trade policies in the U.S. for the past two decades.
Appearing on MSNBC’s “Squawk Box” last year, DiMicco said Trump is “100 percent right on trade.”
During the campaign, Trump said he would immediately withdraw the U.S. from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, label China a currency manipulator and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump said he believes in trade, but not necessarily many of the trade deals the U.S. has negotiated.
DiMicco said it took someone like Trump to stand up and show people “we’ve been had by the trade policies this country has been putting forth for the past 20 years.”
He said U.S. trade policies have been a “complete failure” because they have allowed mercantilism, particularly in China, to “commandeer” free trade. On the same segment, he also noted that trade has “decimated” the U.S. manufacturing sector because the trade deals that were negotiated were not properly enforced.
David Spooner, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP and a former chief textile and apparel negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, said DiMicco would be a “good fit for Trump.”
“He is someone whom I’ve known fairly well and his trade rhetoric jives extremely well with Trump’s trade rhetoric,” Spooner said. “He long has said trade agreements are not tough enough and folks should buy American.”
Spooner said DiMicco, however, would be a “little inconsistent as a USTR pick for the obvious reason he is not a creature of Washington, D.C.”
“We think he would be an excellent choice,” said Augustine Tantillo, president and ceo at the National Council of Textile Organizations. “Dan has been a strong advocate for strengthening our trade posture, especially in relation to currency manipulation, which has been an issue of importance to NCTO since our inception.”
As a former ceo of a U.S. steel manufacturing company, Tantillo said DiMicco is “fully aware of the challenges that U.S. manufacturers face both abroad and competing here in the U.S. market.”
Another potential USTR candidate is reportedly Bill Hagerty, founder and managing director of Hagerty Peterson & Co. LLC, an equity investment firm. Hagerty, who worked on the White House staff during President George H.W. Bush’s administration overseeing international trade, commerce and treasury policies and also served as chief financial officer and chief operating officer of Ultra Stores, the fifth-largest U.S. jewelry retailer, according to a bio posted on his company’s web site.
Other USTR candidates said to be under consideration include Silicon Valley billionaire investor Peter Thiel; Peter Navarro, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of California Irvine, and a few lawmakers on the House Ways and Means committee, including Reps. Dave Reichert (R., Wash.) and Devin Nunes (R., Calif.)
Spooner said Thiel would be a smart political choice for Trump.
“He is a Silicon Valley guy,” Spooner said. “Insofar as trade agreements needing to be improved [per Trump], it might send a positive message to have a high-tech guy in charge of trade policy, considering the growing importance of the sector to the economy.”
The Commerce Secretary slot is also up for grabs.
Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who vetted potential cabinet picks with their team at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. over the weekend, met Sunday with financier Wilbur Ross, former majority owner of International Textile Group, which owns Cone Denim and Burlington Worldwide.
The president-elect and his team also met with another potential contender for Commerce Secretary on Saturday: Lew Eisenberg, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
In the meeting with Eisenberg, a financier and veteran bundler, the Trump team “discussed plans for ‘America First’ initiatives, bringing Made in America manufacturing to the forefront and improving infrastructure,” according to a readout.
Some industry officials said Ross would be a good choice for the post. ITG was recently acquired by Los Angeles-based private equity group Platinum Equity.
Ross has direct ties to the textile industry and at one time supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
“He certainly will have an intimate understanding of the textile business,” said Tantillo. “We would view that as a positive. As [a former] owner of a major textile manufacturer, he understands the industry and the challenges we face and has a pretty good feel for policy positions that we have taken over the years. He probably would be the first commerce secretary in decades who would come in with that level of understanding of the U.S. textile industry.”
Spooner said he dealt with Ross during the CAFTA negotiations and he “struck me as very pragmatic.” But he also raised a question on how Ross’ views on trade have evolved. Some have also questioned whether the 78-year-old Ross would want the position at this point in his career.
“He built a denim mill in Nicaragua after CAFTA that eventually went under and you have to wonder to what degree it shaped his view of how well trade agreements are negotiated,” Spooner added.
Other contenders for the job are said to include DiMicco and Dallas financier Ray Washburne, who was vice chairman of the Trump’s Victory Committee.