Ross acknowledges U.S. may have picked a trade fight with China

DAVOS, Switzerland  — President Donald Trump's decision this week to slap tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines could spur retaliatory action by China, conceded U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Ross said there is "always potential for retribution and retaliation, and that's up to the Chinese to decide."

The Trump administration's announcement on Monday heightened the focus on the president's address Friday in Davos, with many participants at the elite gathering expressing concern about Trump's "America First" program and whether that augurs a new era of U.S. protectionism.

Trade wars are "fought every single day," with parties breaking trade rules and trying to "take advantage" of things, said Ross, who also noted pushback by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau told the WEF this week his country and the 10 remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership had revised their trade deal following the U.S. withdrawing from the trade pact last year. He also said he is "working very hard" to convince President Trump about the merits of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Appearing alongside Ross, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin brushed off concerns about a potentially hostile reception from critics at the elite forum, saying "we don't have to worry about this crowd."

Mnuchin spoke in the wake of scattered protests and concerns that Trump's "America First" message could clash with the consensus view in favor of globalized trade at Davos.

Mnuchin also said he's not "particularly concerned" by reports China is preparing to wind down its purchases of U.S. Treasuries, in part because of the U.S.'s stance on free trade.

The leaders of France and Germany, President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are set to headline the roll-call of leaders Wednesday, two days before Trump is due to give his own speech in the heavily snow-covered Swiss town.

Europe's economic revival is one of the main reasons why the global economy is powering ahead and both Macron — who will make his first appearance at the WEF since being elected president — and Merkel will trumpet how the region has turned the corner after years of crisis.