Commerce Secretary Ross: Demand for steel will jump if US gets into 'major conflict'

Sec. Ross: We get accused of being protectionist, but other countries are far worse

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Thursday that President Donald Trump's plans for defense spending will require increased American steel production, while he called other steel-producing countries more "protectionist" than the U.S.

"We now really have to defend ourselves, and we especially need to since the need for steel is already growing by the military before we have a major buildup," Ross said, adding that if the U.S. ever gets into a "major conflict," demand for steel would "go way up."

The commerce secretary, speaking to CNBC after a White House meeting with steel industry executives, called China, Japan and the European Union far more "protectionist" on these policies than the U.S.

The White House isn't contemplating ending its steel imports to the U.S., Ross clarified, as Trump launched a probe Thursday on foreign infrastructure production.

Many leaders in the steel industry rallied behind President Trump's action to sign a directive, which asks for a speedy probe into whether imports of foreign-made steel are hurting U.S. national security.

After Trump's meeting Thursday afternoon with top management in the steel industry, many infrastructure stocks were trading in green territory and tracking for their best days in weeks.

For example, U.S. Steel climbed near 8 percent, and AKS Steel Holdings was trading on pace to top its best day since April 7, when the stock gained 8.36 percent. The materials sector of the S&P 500 was up more than 1 percent on this news.

President Trump has pledged "big" infrastructure spending, although the Republican-controlled Congress has not seen Trump's infrastructure spending pledge as a priority amid efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass tax reform.

Trump promised to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure during his campaign, and some Democrats have signaled that is an issue on which they can cooperate with Trump.

— CNBC's Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.