Secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross. Photo: AFP
Secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross. Photo: AFP

US President Donald Trump’s stated policy of putting business before politics was clearly seen by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s use of the SelectUSA Investment Summit at National Harbor, Maryland, last month to announce more than US$600 million in foreign direct investments to the United States and an unofficial bilateral meeting between belligerents Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

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Another example of Trump’s “business first” policy was Ross’s ability to corral the economy minister of the UAE, Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, and his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, to participate at the US government’s SelectUSA FDI summit of US cabinet secretaries, governors and Fortune 100 chief executives – notwithstanding the embargo against Qatar led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Mansoori was accompanied by representatives of the UAE’s sovereign wealth funds, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) and Mubudala Investment Company, while Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim Al Thani was accompanied by the Qatar Development Bank and mega US real-estate investor Al Dar Real Estate.

Ross, along with Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) president Ray Washburne, is using US private-sector investment to cement foreign relations and as an effective hearts-and-minds weapon against transnational terrorism and organized crime.

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Ross said he would lead a trade mission to Ghana, and then to Tunisia and Egypt, in the as the previous administration did not effectively promote US private-sector investment in Africa and other places of strategic US interest.

Ross does little to conceal that he is purposely exploiting Trump’s protectionist trade rhetoric and threats of tariffs as a way to stimulate foreign direct investment into the United States, with special focus on manufacturing and industry.

A prime example of using the threat of tariffs to win US jobs and investment was the announcement by Indian steel conglomerate JSW Steel that it would invest $500 million to relaunch a defunct steel mill in the center of Ohio’s rust belt, Mingo Junction.

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In an interview, JSW Steel board member Jayant Acharya said the company would be open to acquiring US steel companies on an opportunistic basis.

Acharya also agreed that investment in US steel companies was similar to Indian investment by ArcelorMittal in the Eastern European nations of Poland, Romania and Slovakia ahead of their accession to the European Union.

Even Mansoori admitted that threatened tariffs on aluminum production by Emirates Aluminum (EMAL) was a motivating factor for his VIP attendance at the SelectUSA Summit.

However, Trump’s and Ross’s “great game” approach to trade and investment also includes an open door to one of America’s closest European allies, Italy.

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Luigi Lazzareschi, the chairman and owner of Sofidel SpA, a Lucca, Italy-based privately owned manufacturer of toilet paper, was highlighted at the SelectUSA Summit as an example of successful investment by a foreign company in the United States.

Lazzareschi, who studied at the University of South Carolina, has built the second-largest tissue manufacturer in Europe and says he will continue to expand in the world’s largest economy through greenfield investments such as the company’s $360 million investment in rural Oklahoma.

Peter K Semler is the chief executive editor and founder of Capitol Intelligence. Previously, he was the Washington, DC, bureau chief for Mergermarket (Dealreporter/Debtwire) of the Financial Times and headed political and economic coverage of the US House of Representatives and Senate.