Feb 4, 2017
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US CEOs discuss economy, taxes and travel ban at Trump meeting

Feb 4, 2017

Chief executives of major U.S. companies huddled at the White House during a meeting at which some of them expressed concern about a travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries traveling to the United States.

Topics on the agenda also included job creation and tax reform, with statements from CEOs to the press afterward making it clear that unlike the retail and consumer goods industries, including apparel, not all business models are opposed to an import tax.

The CEO meeting at the White House on Friday also laid bare the fault line between U.S. corporations about the import tax. - Daniel Schwen, wikimedia.org

Wal-Mart Stores Inc Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said on Friday his meeting with President Donald Trump offered an important opportunity to discuss the economy and job creation.

McMillon described the dialogue with the President as "constructive" and "candid."

“I was proud to share how we work to make life better for our customers in ways that also create opportunities for our associates and our communities,” McMillon said. “I look forward to continued discussions with the administration, consistent with our longstanding belief that it’s always better to be engaged in trying to shape solutions than sitting on the sidelines.”

But the meeting also demonstrated how division in the corporate world is also developing over taxes. Boeing Co and General Electric Co on Thursday joined a group in support of a congressional plan to tax all imports. But that plan, which does not have universal support among Republicans, is opposed by many U.S. retailers, which say it could raise prices for consumers.

"If you're a big U.S. manufacturer and exporter, you love it. And if you're a retailer bringing a lot of your stuff in, it has ramifications for you," Jack Welch, the former GE chief executive, said on Fox Business after the meeting. "It's not a simple issue."

Republican leaders say tax reform is a top priority, but they have acknowledged it could take until the end of 2017 or longer to finish legislation.

"If I were a company, I'd be worried about tax reform," said Bernie Williams, chief investment officer at USAA Investment Solutions, in San Antonio.

Business leaders said afterward that the group, which included Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase & Co  and Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo Inc , discussed bank rules, tax reform, and objections to Trump's week-old ban.


Some companies are worried that the travel restrictions will impact their employees or create uncertainty that could rattle markets. Tech companies also have broader concerns about Trump's immigration policies because of the number of foreign workers they employ in the United States.
The U.S. business community has been divided in their approach on taxes and immigration, and some leaders are wary of working with a president who uses his platform to attack companies that vex him, such as threatening penalties for manufacturing outside the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly delivered an update to the corporate leaders on the travel restrictions, which caused chaos at major U.S. airports and are now facing court challenges.
"There was obviously concern by different people and explanations and that issue had to be covered and was covered," Blackstone Group Chief Executive Stephen Schwarzman, who leads the advisory group, said on Fox Business.

Participants including Elon Musk of Tesla Inc had said before the meeting that they would raise concerns with Trump about the travel crackdown.

The meeting, which also included Mary Barra of General Motors Co and Jim McNerney, formerly of Boeing Co , convened a business advisory panel that Trump announced in December.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick quit the group under pressure from activists over the order. Musk defended his own decision to participate on Friday, saying that going to the meeting did not mean he agreed with Trump's actions.

The White House said in a statement on Thursday evening that did not mention Uber that Trump "understands the importance of an open dialogue with fellow business leaders to discuss how to best make our nation's economy stronger."

Executives from Ford Motor Co also criticized the ban, but others, including General Motors and JPMorgan Chase have not taken a position.


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