coronavirus evacuation plane
Wuhan evacuee: When the plane landed, we cheered
02:13 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday he believed the coronavirus outbreak that has left millions under lockdown in China will help return jobs to the US and Mexico.

“I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America – some to US, probably some to Mexico as well,” Ross said a day after President Donald Trump signed the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a major bipartisan trade deal and key priority for the Trump administration.

In an interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo, Ross acknowledged the victims, saying, “I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease” but said businesses need to take the risk into account and consider the virus when reviewing supply chains.

A Department of Commerce spokesperson said in a statement that Ross had made clear that 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. Fortunately, the Department of Commerce is equipped to support the American people and our businesses to do both,” the spokesperson said.

More than 7,700 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in mainland China and at least 170 people have died from the virus. Elsewhere, more than 100 people have been infected in 20 countries or territories across North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Airlines around the world have suspended flights to China in response.

Fears over the Wuhan coronavirus have caused steep drops on Asian markets and the yuan has tumbled in offshore trading. Analysts have predicted that the virus could hurt China’s economy.

US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the central bank is “carefully” monitoring the coronavirus situation, noting that the economic disruption from the disease remains in “very early stages.”

Trump earlier this month signed the first phase of a trade deal with China, after nearly two years of fraught negotiations and a punishing trade war that hurt US soybean farmers.

Ross has made controversial comments before. During a partial government shutdown last year, Ross said he doesn’t “really quite understand why” furloughed federal workers don’t just take out loans to cover missed paychecks.

This story has been updated with a statement from the Department of Commerce.

CNN’s Donna Borak, Laura He and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.