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President Donald Trump, center, is flanked by National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, left, and senior adviser Jared Kushner, during a January meeting with various business leaders.

Trump Vows to Put CEOs to Work Restoring US Manufacturing

Feb. 23, 2017
The meeting grew out of a December announcement of an a new trade advisory panel on manufacturing and a series of previous gatherings.

Donald Trump summoned some of America’s more prominent corporate executives to the White House on Thursday and told them he intends to put them to work restoring manufacturing jobs and U.S. dominance in trade.

“They share our commitment to bring manufacturing back,” Trump said as he sat with the business leaders, which included Dow Chemical Co. CEO Andrew Liveris, General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Lockheed Martin Corp. CEO Marillyn A Hewson, and Caterpillar Inc. Chairman Doug Oberhelman.

Trump used the public portion of the meeting to reiterate some of his campaign themes, blasting what he called “unbelievably bad” trade deals and singling out trade deficits with Mexico and China. He vowed to punish companies that move jobs outside the U.S. and promised to squeeze more money out of government contracts, citing his talks with Hewson, which he said cut the cost of Lockheed’s F-35 fighter jet by $700 million.

Before meeting with Trump, groups of executives were split up into separate working groups on topics such as taxes and trade, regulations, infrastructure and the future workforce into separate working groups to recommend policy changes. Joining them in the breakout sessions were administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence; Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin; and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Campbell Soup Co. CEO Denise Morrison and Harris Corp. CEO Bill Brown were among those who took part in the working group sessions with administration officials, which also included budget director Mick Mulvaney. Another discussion group, led by Cohn, included Corning Inc. CEO Wendell Weeks, and their conversation touched on transportation and gasoline taxes. 

Thursday’s meeting grew out of Trump’s December announcement of an advisory panel on manufacturing. They’ve met at least once already, three days after Trump took office in January. Ahead of the meeting, Business Roundtable, the lobbying group for U.S. corporate executives, sent a letter to Cohn laying out 16 regulations of top concern to its members. The letter touches on everything from the Affordable Care Act to net neutrality to environmental regulations — but also hints at CEO concerns about the economic impacts of Trump immigration and trade policy.

Topping the Business Roundtable list is a 2015 move by the Environmental Protection Agency to lower national ambient air quality standards for ground-level ozone, as well as EPA limits on new coal-fired power plants and expanded jurisdiction over state waters. The list also includes overtime regulations; Dodd-Frank provisions including CEO pay ratio disclosure, conflict minerals disclosure rules and margin requirements for uncleared swaps; and employer reporting and tax requirements under the Affordable Care Act. In addition, the group is seeking expedited export controls and tightening eligibility and increasing exclusions for shareholder proposals.

“While some of the listed regulations in isolation may not appear significant to growth, their cumulative effect has drained resources from innovation and job creation and directed them to non-value adding administrative and bureaucratic activities,” the letter read. It was signed by Mark Costa, the chairman and CEO for Eastman Chemical Co. who leads Business Roundtable’s smart regulation committee.

At the same time, the letter said that as the administration “considers new policies with regard to immigration or the expansion of ‘Buy America’ requirements, Business Roundtable stands ready to assist to prevent unintended consequences that would inhibit the ability for U.S. companies to drive economic growth and be globally competitive.”

Trump has used previous meetings with companies to encourage corporate leaders to build their products in the U.S., offering tax breaks and lower regulation to bring down costs — and warning that he wants to raise tariffs on products produced overseas. The heads of labor organizations, automotive firms, national retail chains, drug companies, and airlines are all among the groups who have met with Trump in the West Wing in recent weeks.

“As you can tell by the structure of the meeting, the president is expecting these interactions to lead to real action being taken by the administration,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Trump would address his plans to overhaul the tax code, which he has said he will deliver within weeks, or a border-adjustment tax proposal under consideration by House Republicans, which would shift the tax burden from exporters to importers.

Republican leaders in the House, including Speaker Paul Ryan, argue that a border-adjustment tax would benefit American manufacturing while providing revenue to make up for losses from reducing corporate tax rates. Several manufacturers, including Dow Chemical, are actively lobbying for the plan, which Trump has called “too complicated.” Opponents, including net importers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., oppose it and warn it will raise taxes on American consumers.

David Farr, chairman and CEO of Emerson, is planning to attend the meeting on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers, a trade group representing 14,000 member companies of which he is currently the chair of the board of directors.

Farr and other NAM board members are planning a national tour of factories over the coming weeks to promote policy changes they hope to see from the Trump administration and Congress. The tour will feature stops at the facilities of companies including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., and Anheuser-Busch Inbev.

By Justin Sink and Shannon Pettypiece, with assistance from Ben Brody, Michelle Cortez and Margaret Talev.

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