Commerce Secretary Ross on NAFTA: A deal with Mexico is in reach

Key Points
  • U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross thinks a deal with Mexico is "very likely within reach in the very, very near future."
  • The Trump administration is nearing a breakthrough with Mexico that will allow NAFTA negotiations to proceed.
  • Ross says the United States is "way ahead of the game" in its trade dispute with China.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on winning a trade war with China

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the United States is getting close to reaching a deal with Mexico in its ongoing bid to renegotiate the NAFTA free-trade deal.

"We're trying to get to a deal. We're making progress. We don't have a deal just yet, but I think a deal is very likely within reach in the very, very near future," Ross told CNBC on the sidelines of an event at an aluminum smelter in Hawesville, Kentucky.

The Trump administration is reportedly preparing to announce this week that it has reached a breakthrough with Mexico that will allow Canada, the third partner in NAFTA, to rejoin negotiations. That announcement could come on Thursday.

Mexico's delegation said major issues still need to be worked out, but they could be resolved within hours.

Nearing a trade deal with Mexico: Still 'major issues'

A government official told CNBC the White House could potentially delay an announcement on the breakthrough depending on the president's reaction to the plea deal reached by his former attorney Michael Cohen. On Tuesday, Cohen implicated Trump in a scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election by paying off two women who allege they had affairs with the president.

Ross told CNBC Cohen's plea deal has "no impact whatsoever" on the administration's ability to make progress on trade deals. He said he is not concerned it will be a distraction.

The Commerce secretary was in Kentucky for an event celebrating the restart of an aluminum smelter. The Trump administration has slapped 25 percent tariffs on aluminum imports, a move that has bolstered domestic aluminum mills but raised prices for American companies that manufacture products from the metal.

China has retaliated by taxing billions of dollars worth of American goods. Ross acknowledged the countermeasures, but said the United States is "way ahead of the game," pointing to rising employment and recent economic strength at home.

"It doesn't feel to me like we are being bothered very much by the retaliations as a country. There are individual hardships that are being unfairly created by China," particularly in the agriculture sector, he said.