Commerce chief Ross: 'Strong personal relationship' between Trump and Xi key to trade talks

Key Points
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is optimistic the trade disputes between the U.S. and China can be resolved.
  • A "strong personal relationship" that President Donald Trump has forged with Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen as key.
  • Ross also said the administration is looking into alternative remedies" to deal with China tech company ZTE.
President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping
Thomas Peter | Reuters

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he hopes that the U.S. and China can come to an agreement over the myriad trade disputes between the two nations.

One reason for that optimism is the close tie between the two heads of state.

"It's difficult to handicap the outcome, but my hope is the strong personal relationship between President Trump and President Xi will facilitate an agreement, just as it seems to possibly be doing relative to North Korea," Ross said during a speech Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

"The president has meticulously honored his campaign promises, and key among them is making our trade relations with China much more fair," he added.

Ross has recently returned from China with a cadre of administration officials trying to resolve trade differences. The U.S. has threatened to slap tariffs on steel, aluminum and a slew of other products if it doesn't get what it wants from China and other global partners.

China, though, remains the key.

"Before landing in China we sent them an extremely detailed list of our needs, and they responded with a similarly detailed but as you can imagine quite different list of their proposals," Ross said. "The gap remains wide."

However, he also expressed confidence that the U.S. holds the upper hand.

Even if China were to put a retaliatory 25 percent tariff on the $50 billion or so of U.S. goods it imports, it would barely make a dent on the U.S. economy, Ross said. In fact, there would even be some benefit as some of the goods the U.S. gets from China would be produced domestically.

In a related issue, Ross discussed the recent controversy over Chinese technology company ZTE. Trump has pledged to help the company get off what Ross described as the "bad list, so they could not receive exports of high-tech material."

Ross said the question remains now over whether there are "alternative remedies" to deal with ZTE.

"That's the area we will be exploring very, very promptly," he said.

WATCH: This trade deal may be what Trump needs to take on China

This trade deal may be what Trump needs to take on China
This trade deal may be what Trump needs to take on China