US Commerce Secretary defends tariffs, laments 'hysteria'

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Washington (AFP)

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday leapt to the defense President Donald Trump's proposed new trade tariffs, saying falling stock markets and irate trading partners were "a lot to do about nothing."

To illustrate his point during an appearance on CNBC, Ross held up cans of Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup, arguing that ordinary consumer goods would see little increase in price.

"This is a can of Campbell's Soup. There's about 2.6 cents, 2.6 pennies, worth of steel. If that goes up by 25 percent, that's about six tenths of one cent on the price of can of Campbell's Soup," Ross said.

Noting that he bought the goods at a 7-Eleven convenience store, he dismissed any possible price increase as negligible: "It doesn't mean anything."

Trump sparked a firestorm on Thursday by suddenly announcing plans to institute sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in response to alleged dumping and improper subsidies that Ross said had endangered US defense procurement.

With global stock markets tumbling and allies indignant, Trump greeted the negative reaction by vowing Friday to enact even more sweeping "reciprocal taxes" on all imports from trading partners who place duties on American exports.

Ross said the reaction was unjustified and driven by narrow interests resistant long overdue change.

"All of this hysteria is a lot to do about nothing," he said.

"I think this is scare tactics by the people who want the status quo, who've given away jobs in this country, who've left us with this enormous trade deficit and one that's growing."

Ross likewise downplayed the risk of retaliation, saying that trading partners who decided to cut US imports in other areas would both raise their own costs and create openings for US exporters.

China already threatened to retaliate against US soybean exports.

"The only reason China or anyone else buys soybeans from us is that it's the cheapest price that they can get," Ross said.