Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Sunday that licenses for United States companies to sell components to Chinese telecom giant Huawei are coming "very shortly," and expressed hope that the U.S. would reach a trade deal with China this month.
"We're in good shape, we're making good progress, and there's no natural reason why it couldn't be," Ross said during an interview on Bloomberg Television in Bangkok. "But whether it will slip a little bit, who knows. It's always possible."
Following the cancellation of this month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Chile due to protests in the country, Ross said that the deal between President Donald Trump and Xi Jinping could be reached in one of several locations, including Iowa, Alaska, Hawaii or somewhere in China.
Last month, the U.S. and China reached a truce and started working to finalize the first phase of a trade agreement, which includes a pause in tariff escalation and China buying U.S. agriculture products.
Ross, however, was non-committal on whether the Trump administration would suspend a December tariff hike. While Trump has said the phase one trade deal represents 60% of a long-term agreement, reports have shown that China is doubtful about reaching a long-term comprehensive trade deal.
In May, the Trump administration placed Huawei and dozens of other Chinese firms on the Commerce Department's entity list, citing national security concerns. The move blocked Huawei from buying American software from companies like Google and Micron without getting a U.S. government license.
The ban has hurt American companies that do business with China. In October, Trump gave the green light to begin approving licenses for a select few American companies to bypass the ban, according to The New York Times, but none have been granted yet.
The fact that no licenses have been approved yet has raised some speculation that the White House was withholding them as leverage in China trade negotiations. Ross said on Sunday that the government has gotten 260 requests, and assured that the licenses "will be forthcoming very shortly."
"That's a lot of applications — it's frankly more than we would've thought," Ross said.
"Remember too with entity lists there's a presumption of denial," he continued. "So the safe thing for these companies would be to assume denial, even though we will obviously approve quite a few of them."