KEY POINTS

  • Ross predicts outbreak will accelerate the return of jobs to the United States
  • Ross called the outbreak "unfortunate" and said the first order of business is to bring it under control
  • Ross also cited the SARS and African swine fever outbreaks in China

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross predicted Thursday the coronavirus outbreak will “accelerate” the return of jobs to the United States as companies reexamine their supply chains.

Ross called the outbreak, which originated in China, “unfortunate” and called it “another risk factor that people need to take into account.”

“Every American’s heart has to go out to the victims of the coronavirus, so I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease,” Ross told Fox Business. “But the fact is, it does give businesses yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain.”

He added: “So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America. Some to U.S., probably some to Mexico as well.”

The Commerce Department, in an email statement to the New York Times defended Ross’s comments, noting his initial comment was that it was important to bring the virus under control.

“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,” the statement said.

Ross cited two previous Chinese outbreaks, the SARS virus that killed 774 people in 2017 and the African swine fever outbreak that has ravaged pig farming operations.

At least 170 people have died so far from the coronavirus and nearly 8,000 others have been sickened.

President Trump has been using tariffs in a bid to drive jobs back to the United States. The administration said it has no plans to roll them back if the coronavirus starts pressuring the global economy.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday he expected the coronavirus outbreak will slow economic growth in East Asia and from there spread globally.

“There will clearly be implications, at least in the near term, for Chinese output, and I guess for some of their closest neighbors, and we'll just have to see what the effect is globally," he said.

Apple, Ford and Toyota have idled their Chinese factories and Ikea, Starbucks and other companies have temporarily closed some stores. Some airlines also have suspended flights to mainland China.

Companies already had been moving factories out of China, largely because of rising wages. But those factories for making such items as clothing, toys and shoes are going to low-wage countries like Vietnam, Mexico and India.