President Donald Trump and two top aides talked about trade issues with Apple chief Tim Cook on Wednesday as the White House prepares to try to avert a trade war with China, a manufacturing hub for the iPhone maker.
Cook, who has urged calm during the recent flare in US trade tensions with China, held private talks with Trump in the Oval Office. He also spoke with the president’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
Trump is preparing to send a delegation to China to try to head off a trade war that stands to harm Apple, the world’s largest technology company, and other hardware makers that build products in China.
Trump has threatened a new round of $100 billion (roughly Rs. 6.68 lakh crores) in tariffs on Chinese products that could target cellphones, computers and other consumer goods. China retaliated against an initial round of $50 billion (roughly Rs. 3.34 lakh crores) in tariffs.
The meeting, which the White House said had been in the works for a couple of weeks, came the day after Cook sat at Trump’s head table at his first state dinner, held in honour of French President Emmanuel Macron.
A White House official described the meeting as “good” but neither the White House nor Apple provided details of the discussions.
Trump said earlier on Wednesday that he was looking forward to seeing Cook. “We will be talking about many things, including how the US has been treated unfairly for many years, by many countries, on trade,” he said on Twitter.
Cook also had strong relations with Trump’s predecessor in the White House, Democratic President Barack Obama. He sat at the head table for Obama’s 2015 state dinner honouring Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Cook has been to China at least three times since October, including paying a visit to Xi.
Cook has become one of Trump’s favourite CEOs to name-check in speeches. This was a surprising turn after a rocky start to their relationship. During his election campaign, Trump urged supporters to boycott Apple and criticised the company for making its products in China.
As president, Trump has called Cook a “good guy” and mentioned him by name at least 10 times during public remarks, including during his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January and during several high-profile interviews.
The president frequently uses Cook and Apple as an example of how he says his tax cut package is creating jobs because it spurred the company to repatriate earnings it had held overseas.
Trump has frequently said he would not consider his presidency successful unless Apple builds manufacturing plants in the United States.
Apple has a market capitalisation of $835 billion (roughly Rs. 55.78 lakh crores) and 123,000 employees, 84,000 of whom are in the United States. The company said in January it plans to spend $30 billion in capital expenditures in the United States over the next five years, $10 billion of that on data centres.
Apple said its spending will create 20,000 new jobs through hiring at existing campuses in Cupertino and Austin as well as at a planned new campus.
Cook has also developed ties with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior advisers at the White House who work on tech training and government IT modernisation issues.
His praise for Cook aside, Trump, a Republican, has had a sometimes tense relationship with the US technology industry, based in Democratic strongholds such as California’s Silicon Valley and in Seattle. He has clashed with the tech sector on issues including trade, immigration and the environment.
Cook has publicly objected to Trump’s decision to end a program protecting from deportation young immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States as children. He was also among business leaders who criticised Trump after the president cast equal blame on white nationalists and anti-racism activists for violence last year in Charlottesville, Virginia.