Waiting until the election in November 2020 to sign a trade agreement “takes off the table something that they [Beijing] may think gives them some leverage,” Ross told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”
“Once the election occurs—and the president seems to be in very good shape for the election—once it occurs and he’s back in, now that’s no longer a distraction that can detract from our negotiating position,” he added.
Ross’s comments came hours after Trump said that he had “no deadline” on the trade deal.
“In some ways, I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal. But they want to make a deal now, and we’ll see whether or not the deal’s going to be right; it’s got to be right,” Trump said Tuesday ahead of a meeting of NATO leaders in London.
The president added that Washington is in a stronger negotiating position than the Chinese regime, given China’s weak economic performance.
China reported its slowest economic growth in 27 years in October as the trade tensions with the United States hit its manufacturing sector.
“The China trade deal is dependent on one thing: do I want to make it,” Trump told reporters.
In an interview with Fox Business on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence said that the president is leveraging the strong U.S. economy in trade negotiations with China and around the world.
“What President Trump envisions with tariffs is a means to an end, and the end … is free trade,” he said.
On Dec. 2, Trump reinstated tariffs on steel and aluminum from Brazil and Argentina in response to recent currency devaluation in those countries, which were negatively impacting American farmers, he said.
Ross said he was optimistic about a fruitful trade negotiation with Beijing, given the economic problems in China, “particularly the hollowing out of supply chains.”
A steady string of international firms, including Apple, Dell, Google, Amazon, toymaker Hasbro have announced plans to shift part of their U.S. bound production from China to neighboring countries, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Bangladesh.
“That’s a trend that is going to continue, especially as long as there’s the trade uncertainty,” Ross said.
Ross said that the tariffs scheduled to take effect on Dec. 15 will stay in place unless “enough substantive progress has been made” in trade talks.
Phasing out of existing tariffs has “always been part of things,” but the core issue is whether the two sides can work out a “total package” that is in the interests of both, he said, noting that “the president made clear he’s under no time pressure to get it done.”
Ross added that the president is “perfectly happy” to continue with the current tariffs on Chinese goods if the right deal is not reached.
Both Trump and Ross said that the rising tensions in Hong Kong, where anti-government protests have persisted for nearly six months, has complicated the trade talks.
Beijing recently vowed to react strongly to Trump’s signing of two human rights bills backing the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement a week earlier.
On Monday, the Chinese regime said they would suspend U.S. Navy visits to the port of Hong Kong.
The regime also announced unspecified sanctions against at least five U.S.-based non-profit organizations, saying that they “played an egregious role in the Hong Kong amendment bill disturbance” and were “much to blame for the chaos in Hong Kong.”
Ross said the regime’s retaliation barring U.S. port calls was “fairly modest.”
“That’s not a big deal, we can very well live without the port of Hong Kong,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, Trump said the Hong Kong legislation didn’t help trade negotiations with the regime.
The law “doesn’t make it better, but we’ll see what happens,” Trump said before departing for the London NATO summit.
When asked whether the crisis in Hong Kong and the persecution of Muslim minorities in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang will be addressed as part of the trade deal, Pence told Fox Business that United States had spoken out clearly with respect to these two issues.
“The president has used essentially the economic dialogue that’s happening between China and the United States and say: look, it’s going to be very difficult for us to do a deal if China doesn’t deal with Hong Kong peaceably and humanely,” Pence said.