It is a signal of how Trump, who is also interviewing candidates to be the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), plans to elevate a crackdown on competitors in the world market and the overhaul of trade deals that he says have hurt U.S. factory jobs.
The USTR will not be merged with Commerce, but Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller made clear that most trade policy decisions would be steered by Ross, who made a good part of his fortune by investing in distressed steel companies that benefited from stiff import tariffs imposed by former President George W. Bush in the early 2000s.
"Mr. Ross not only has negotiated some very good deals over his lifetime, he's also the person who worked closely with the president-elect on crafting his trade policy over the administration," Miller told reporters during a daily transition briefing. "Mr. Ross will be playing a big role in any trade particulars in this administration."
The move also marks a notable shift from trade policy management in President Barack Obama's administration, where USTR Michael Froman was seen as the main trade architect, negotiating a 12-country Pacific Rim trade deal that ultimately failed to win approval in Congress.
"It looks like the USTR office is being downgraded and subordinated to Commerce," said Derek Scissors, a trade expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington.
"That's a big change because USTR is this small elite trade agency right across from the White House."