Mike Blake | Reuters
The fast-spreading coronavirus has infected thousands of people in China and raised fears about a global pandemic — and that could have a positive impact on the U.S. economy, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said Thursday.
Ross said in a Fox Business Network interview that the disease, which Chinese officials say has more than 7,700 confirmed cases and has caused 170 deaths, will lead businesses to reconsider their supply chains.
That could help quicken the pace at which jobs and manufacturing are returning to the U.S. from overseas, he said.
“I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease,” Ross told Fox on Thursday morning. “But the fact is, it does give businesses another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain.”
The coronavirus is “another risk factor that people need to take into account,” Ross said. “I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America,” he said. “Some to the U.S., some to Mexico as well.”
Ross made the comments weeks after Trump signed a “phase one” trade deal with China, which defused some tensions between the nations.
“As Secretary Ross made clear the first step is to bring the virus under control and help the victims of this disease. It is also important to consider the ramifications of doing business with a country that has a long history of covering up real risks to its own people and the rest of the world,” a Commerce Department official told CNBC, when asked for further comment on Ross’ remarks. “Fortunately, the Department of Commerce is equipped to support the American people and our businesses to do both.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ross on Thursday added that companies such as Apple have taken steps to make up some of the production lost from their suppliers in China.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday that his company has suppliers in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province and the epicenter of the disease.
“I think there’s a confluence of factors that will make it very, very likely [that there will be] more reshoring to the U.S., and some reshoring to Mexico,” Ross said on Fox.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, suggested Wednesday on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” that U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports would not be lifted if the deadly coronavirus starts to weigh on China’s economy.
“That’s a spin that’s coming right out of Wall Street, and it really, I think, it does a disservice to this whole crisis to bring that into the discussion,” Navarro said.
— CNBC’s Thomas Franck contributed to this article.