World Economy

Finding Wilbur Ross's footprint in China

Wilbur Ross' investment in a Chinese fabric factory

JIAXING, China — Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross has taken aim at China for what he describes as its unfair trade practices as well as stealing jobs, but at least one of Ross's companies has sought to benefit from off-shoring jobs to China.

In an industrial park in Jiaxing, CNBC went to find a factory in which Ross, who was chosen by President Donald Trump be the next U.S. commerce secretary, had invested.

The site, which opened in 2007 in a city about a two-hour drive from Shanghai, produces denim fabric, and it belongs to an American company, which at the time was owned by a textile group controlled by Ross.

The factory was built as part of an effort to save costs: Production in the U.S. textile industry had been moving overseas, and the company was building up this factory in China while simultaneously downsizing staff in its main facility in North Carolina.

The downsizing was significant enough for the U.S. Labor Department to offer trade adjustment assistance to the American workers.

Ross sold out of the textile operation only weeks before the U.S. presidential election. His office and the denim company declined to comment to CNBC.

The billionaire has repeatedly criticized China, telling U.S. lawmakers in January that the country was the "most protectionist" among large economies, and that Chinese officials "talk much more about free trade than they actually practice."

"I am not anti-trade. I am pro-trade," Ross said at the time, according to Reuters. "But I am pro-sensible trade, not trade that is to the disadvantage of the American worker and to the American manufacturing community."

But as Ross and others in the Trump administration criticize China for stealing jobs, factories on the ground are battling rising costs and people in manufacturing towns like Jiaxing say they are increasingly worried about production moving to even cheaper countries.

In fact, some in the Chinese business community have even conjectured that Ross's experiences in manufacturing and the global supply chain could make him a more moderate voice on China within the Trump administration.

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