Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, considered a trip to China next month but US officials decided against it as the Asian nation grapples with the coronavirus outbreak, according to people familiar with the matter.
Although Mr Ross had not formally announced or scheduled the visit, it was being considered within the administration to coincide with the bringing into effect, in mid-February, of the “phase one” trade deal which was signed this month by Donald Trump, the US president, and Liu He, China’s vice-premier.
“Secretary Ross is excited to return to China when the timing is right,” a commerce department spokesperson told the Financial Times.
The decision was made as concerns rise about the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, including whether the hit to the Chinese economy would make it harder for Beijing to fulfil its pledge to buy $200bn in US products over the next two years, a cornerstone of the hard-fought truce.
A visit by Mr Ross would have marked an opportunity for a cabinet-level member of Mr Trump’s economic team to meet members of the US business community in China, as well as Chinese officials and executives responsible for implementing the agreement.
China agreed to $200bn in purchases of US goods and services in the next two years to narrow the trade deficit as part of the deal, in areas ranging from manufacturing to agriculture and energy.
Panjiva, the supply chain research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, said in a note on Tuesday that the main impact would be felt on consumer spending as well as electronics and automotive supply chains. It added that the economic hit could mean China “might not meet its purchasing commitments” under the phase one deal.
Darin Friedrichs, an analyst at commodity broker INTL FCStone in Shanghai said the $37bn in agricultural purchases that are part of the deal this year would be harder to reach. “People are staying inside. That means smaller meals, eating more leftovers, and overall less demand,” he said.