National Press Club

Commerce secretary hopeful on trade talks with China, citing Trump, Xi relationship

May 14, 2018 | By Michelle Amber |

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross speaks at a National Press Headliners Luncheon May 14.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross speaks at a National Press Headliners Luncheon May 14.

Photo/Image: Cherris May

As trade talks resume this week between the United States and China, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressed optimism at a National Press Club Headliners Luncheon May 14 that the two nations can reach an agreement over numerous issues.

"It is difficult to handicap the outcome,” Ross said, but added he is hopeful that the “strong personal relationship between President Trump and President Xi will facilitate an agreement.”

Ross was part of a U.S. trade delegation that held talks in China earlier this month with senior Chinese officials led by Vice Premier Liu He. As negotiations resume in Washington, Ross said the gap between the two nations remains “wide.”

Among the issues to be discussed, according to Ross, are tariff barriers, non-tariff trade barriers, “forced partnerships and forced technology transfers for companies operating within China” as well as “respect for intellectual property rights.”

The White House in April proposed placing 25 percent tariffs on numerous Chinese exports, with China pledging to strike back with its own 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of U.S. exports. If China acts on that threat it would barely make a dent in the U.S. economy, “having less than a three-tenths of one percent impact on our $1.8 trillion economy,”Ross said.

“I hope that we can make a fair deal,” Ross said. “But if that does not happen, a trade tit-for-tat will not be economically life-threatening to the United States.”

Defending the decision to add a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census, Ross said he does not think the “sky will fall” with the addition.

The question has been asked every year on the American Community Survey, a much smaller, monthly sampling of U.S. households than the decennial census, "in the exact same form that we’re planning to do in the census,” he said. “Sixty-one million families have already been exposed to the question and the sky has not fallen,” he added.

His department is taking a number of steps to assure census participants the question will not affect their privacy as well as to ensure maximum participation, Ross said. Commerce will spend $500 million in advertising to reassure census participants their data, by law, cannot be used for immigration purposes, he said, adding that the department also will work with community groups to help explain why community members should participate in the census.

To help non-English speaking households, instructions will be printed in 12 languages and multi-lingual call centers will be available, Ross said. Also, he said, the citizenship question will be the last one asked so people can concentrate on the other questions first.

Noting that 80 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, Ross said he has a major objective to try to change this “trade deficit into a trade surplus.” He added that some of the seafood is grown in conditions that would not be allowed by U.S. companies and there are health issues with some of the imports, so he is working with fisheries and the private sector on some of these issues.