Jonathan Swan of Axios is reporting this week that President Trump has lost faith in his Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross. If true, that’s a shame, because Ross did a better job than Trump has to date explaining the president’s trade policies to a hostile audience in Davos.
For starters, Ross said the U.S. has no intention of withdrawing from a leadership role in global trade. He noted that, even with recent actions imposing retaliatory tariffs on solar panels and washing machines, the U.S. remains the world’s least protectionist major economy.
He said U.S. generosity on trade after War World II was designed to help Europe and Asia recover from the war, and shouldn’t have become permanent policy. “We don’t intend to abrogate leadership,” Ross said. But “leadership is different from being a sucker and being a patsy.”
Ross also summarily dismissed the notion, put forward here last year by Xi Jinping, that China can take the lead in global trade. He criticized the Chinese financial system, which provides subsidies to key industries, as well as Chinese policies forcing foreign companies to transfer technology, and China’s failure to adequately protect intellectual property. “The Chinese have for quite a little while been superb at free-trade rhetoric and even more superb at highly protectionist activities,” he said.
Still, the CEOs of global companies here worry the administration’s heated rhetoric and accelerating action on the trade front will prompt retaliation from other countries, and push the world into an unintended trade war. That’s why all are anxiously anticipating the President’s speech tomorrow afternoon. (I’ll be watching, but only after hitting the ski slopes in the morning.)
You can see the full Davos conversation with Ross, Cargill CEO David MacLennan, Standard Charter CEO Bill Winters, Eni Chair Emma Marcegaglia, and GATT Head Roberto Azevedo, here.
Trump Talks Testimony
President Donald Trump is “looking forward” to testifying under oath to special counsel Robert Mueller in the latter’s Russian collusion probe. Trump also said he didn’t remember asking the FBI’s deputy director, Andrew McCabe, for whom he voted in the 2016 election. Politico
Former U.S. gymnastics team doctor Lawrence Nassar has been sentenced to between 40 and 175 years in prison, after pleading guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual misconduct. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told the 54-year-old: “I just signed your death warrant.” Meanwhile, Michigan State University head Lou Anna Simon stepped down after being accused of helping Nassar cover up his crimes. BBC
ECB QE Quandary
European Central Bank officials are arguing over their next moves in the context of a strong Eurozone economy. Some officials want to head towards a wind-down of quantitative easing soon, in order to avoid an abrupt end to the strategy if the economy overheats. Others are more cautious. A decision will be made today. Wall Street Journal
Italian Train Crash
At least three people died and scores were injured after a commuter train heading into Milan derailed this morning. The Trenord train was coming from Cremona, in eastern Lombardy. Bloomberg
Around the Water Cooler
No Class Actions for Europe
Facebook arch-nemesis Max Schrems has won a case at the EU’s top court that will allow him to sue the company in his native Austria over privacy violations. However, he failed to win the right to sue on behalf of thousands of other people—effectively ending his hopes of introducing class-action suits to the European stage. Fortune
German Facebook Case
Meanwhile, the German antitrust agency is floating the idea that Facebook could be banned from collecting and processing personal data from third-party websites, as a possible outcome of its probe into the company. “We are blazing a trail in this case,” cartel office chief Andreas Mundt said. Financial Times
White House Drug Liaison Exits
Taylor Weyeneth is stepping down as White House liaison to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, due to outrage over his appointment. The 24-year-old only graduated from college in May 2016, and his sole professional experience was working for the Trump campaign. Washington Post
The Russian government promotes strong antipathy to homosexuality and “gay propaganda,” and the Russian establishment has duly professed outrage over a homoerotic parody video made by air-transport cadets. However, citizens young and old have expressed solidarity with the young soldiers by making their own versions of the video. New Yorker