In the opening hours of his first formal day in the White House on Monday, President Trump welcomed leaders from several of the country's largest corporations and promised to wipe out at least 75 percent of government regulations that hinder their businesses, fast-track their plans to open factories and cut taxes “massively.”
And he again threatened to impose a “substantial border tax” on companies that move production out of the country.
“We're going to be cutting regulation massively,” Trump told a large group of business chief executives over breakfast, which was briefly open to the news media. “Now, we're going to have regulation, and it'll be just as strong and just as good and just as protective of the people as the regulation we have right now. The problem with the regulation that we have right now is that you can't do anything. ... I have people that tell me that they have more people working on regulations than they have doing product.”
Trump has promised to take a series of actions on his first formal day in office, including beginning to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to renegotiate the long-standing NAFTA trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.
His visitors Monday included leaders of companies that Trump has singled out on Twitter and in his speeches, including Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin and Mark Fields of Ford Motor Company. Also in attendance: Michael Dell of Dell Technologies, Jeff Fettig of Whirlpool, Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson, Klaus Kleinfeld of Arconic, Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical, Mario Longhi of U.S. Steel, Elon Musk of SpaceX, Kevin Plank of Under Armour, Mark Sutton of International Paper and Wendell Weeks of Corning.
Talking with reporters outside the West Wing, Liveris said Trump has asked them to present within 30 days a "series of actions" to stimulate the manufacturing economy. He said Trump was engaged in the conversation and "listened carefully."
Liveris said Trump and the CEOs discussed the president's border tax proposal and the industries that would be helped or hurt. But Liveris added that Trump "is not going to do anything to harm competitiveness. He’s going to actually make us all more competitive, recognizing there’s a transition here. You can’t get things done overnight."
Fields said that he came out of the meeting with "a lot of confidence that the president is very, very serious about making sure that the United States economy is going to be strong ... That encourages all of us."
Trump said that he hopes to convene this group at least four times a year to hear directly from the business community, saying that they are “great people” who have done “an amazing job.”
His message to them and other CEOs on Monday: Keep your production within the United States, and you will be rewarded. For those looking to grow or start new factories, Trump promised to expedite their requests and provide incentives to build.
Those who do not heed this advice, Trump said, could face new tariffs that he described as “substantial” and “major.” This threat is one that many Republicans disagree with, worried that it could increase prices for consumers and unfairly punish some companies. International trade experts said Trump may not have the authority to punish individual companies, while broad-based tariffs would violate existing treaties. Trump defended this proposed tax on Monday as “fair.”
“Somebody would said: 'Oh, Trump is going to tax.' I'm not going to tax. There is no tax, none whatsoever,” Trump said. “And I just want to tell you: All you have to do is stay. Don't leave. Don't fire your people in the United States. We have the greatest people.”
In his brief comments, Trump stayed tightly focused on his promises to the business community, rather than veering off to talk about the media or his inauguration crowd count, as he did during a speech at the CIA headquarters this weekend.
Trump is expected on Monday to take action related to the country's largest trade deals, as he repeatedly pledged on the campaign trail to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and start to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement on his first day in office. Although Trump was sworn in on Friday, he has said he considers Monday his first formal day in office.
TPP has been politically toxic since the presidential election, and the deal — which requires congressional approval — was already effectively dead even before Trump took the oath of office. Still, any move to officially end American involvement in the agreement could send an important symbolic message to U.S. trading partners around the globe.
“TPP withdrawal will slow US [economic] growth, cost American jobs, & weaken US standing in Asia/world,” said Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a tweet early Monday. “China could well be principal beneficiary.”
Renegotiating NAFTA, which governs trade with Canada and Mexico, could potentially be more disruptive, experts said. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump recently spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the administration is working to set up a meeting. Trump is also slated to meet with Mexican President Pena Nieto, though no date has been set, Spicer said. It is unclear exactly what changes Trump would make to the existing agreement.
Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that the White House would generally need to provide six months’ notice before withdrawing from NAFTA, potentially clearing the way for new duties on Mexican imports. He cautioned that higher prices on goods from Mexico could also cause prices to rise for U.S. consumers. About 12 percent of U.S. imports come from Mexico. Tariffs “might hurt Mexico more, but it would hurt the United States as well,” Bown said.
Trump has tapped vocal skeptics of globalization to take top posts overseeing trade policy in his administration. His pick for U.S. trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, is a veteran lawyer who has represented steel companies in anti-dumping suits against China. Peter Navarro, the head of the newly formed National Manufacturing Council, has written a book entitled “Death By China.” And Wilbur Ross, the nominee to lead the Commerce Department, said during his confirmation hearing last week that his top priority will be renegotiating NAFTA. “I think all aspects of NAFTA will be put on the table,” Ross said.
David Nakamura contributed to this report.