Trump has pledged to get tough on trade when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who will play a role in any trade policy changes, has part ownership of Diamond S Shipping, a company with ties to China and other parts of Asia.
Ross, a billionaire financier, divested from many assets that could have posed ethics issues before taking the Cabinet spot. In his required financial disclosure, Ross said he would step down from his management roles with Diamond S Shipping and remove himself from decision-making but keep a passive stake in the company, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
His remaining ownership stake in the company underscores the conflicts that wealthy members of Trump's administration could face as they shape his economic agenda.
A Commerce Department spokesman declined to tell CNBC whether Ross sees a need to distance himself from any specific trade negotiations, but said that "as a general matter, Commerce's ethics officials provide the secretary with ongoing guidance to avoid any potential conflicts of interest."
Trump has repeatedly criticized China, alleging that the world's second-largest economy manipulates its currency in order to make its exports cheaper than comparable U.S. products and rack up a massive trade surplus with the United States. Last week, Trump previewed the meeting with Xi by saying "we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses."
On Friday, Ross further highlighted the U.S. trade deficit with China in a CNBC interview. Asked why the administration thinks deficits are bad, Ross said, "if trade deficits are good, why is China so pleased that they run a huge trade surplus?"