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Donald Trump

Trump and US tech titans who voted for Hillary make nice in summit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 4:54am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 7:08am

America’s technology industry leaders including Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos met with Donald Trump on Wednesday, seeking to persuade a man whose presidential bid many of them opposed to avoid policies they believe would hurt their companies.

“I’m here to help you folks do well,” Trump told the executives as the meeting began on Wednesday.

Trump has a prickly relationship with the industry. He differs with many tech CEOs on immigration, internet security and regulation and on government investment. This summer, more than 140 tech industry executives published an open letter denouncing his candidacy and declaring that he “would be a disaster for innovation.”

Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz, who like most other CEOs at the Trump Tower meeting did not sign the letter, said that trade would be at the top of the agenda. Trump has promised to unwind the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement President Barack Obama negotiated with 11 other Pacific Rim nations. He’s also said he would seek to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement.

“This is a very important meeting,” Catz said before the meeting. “Better trade deals are tremendously important to us. We are net exporters. Over 60 per cent of our sales are overseas. So better trade deals are very much in our interest.”

Trump told the executives he would make “fair trade deals.”

The meeting also included Alphabet Inc.’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins, Apple’s Tim Cook, Palantir Technologies CEO Alex Karp and International Business Machines CEO Ginni Rometty. Rometty also serves on a panel of CEOs advising Trump on business and economic matters. Bezos is Amazon’s CEO; Sandberg is Facebook’s chief operating officer.

Employees of internet companies donated more than ten times as much money to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign than to Trump -- US$5.6 million compared with $54,472, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks money in politics.

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Before Wednesday’s meeting, some technologists debated whether invitees should even attend. A few top industry executives that were invited, including Uber Technologies Inc.’s Travis Kalanick and Airbnb Inc.’s Brian Chesky, didn’t go. Both companies said their CEOs had conflicting travel. Trump announced on Wednesday that Kalanick and Elon Musk would both join Rometty on his advisory panel, the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum.

Despite any reservations, most corporate executives would jump at the chance to press their agendas with the new leader of the world’s largest economy. And there are areas of common ground. The largest US technology companies hold hundreds of billions of dollars overseas and would like to bring that money back at a favourable tax rate. Trump has called for tax reform to allow such repatriation and has said revenue from the move could fund improvements to US infrastructure.

Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association, said most of the disagreement between Trump and the tech industry has been over social issues rather than business.

“Trump is in a transition from running for office to serving in office. He will want Apple and other major tech companies to succeed,” Shapiro said before the meeting.

A top subject at the meeting was jobs.

During his campaign, Trump criticised US corporations for moving jobs to other countries, and since his election, he has threatened “consequences” for companies that send work offshore. Earlier in the year, he said that he’d aim to get Apple to make its products in the US.

Apple has suppliers make most of its products in China; moving that work to the US would likely increase the cost of iPhones and iPads.

Some big technology companies made what appeared to be pre-emptive moves ahead of the meeting with Trump. IBM’s Rometty unveiled a plan to hire about 25,000 people in the US over the next four years. Apple may back a $100 billion technology fund that aims to invest about half the money in the US and has pledged to create 50,000 new domestic jobs.

Hours before the meeting, Bezos announced Amazon’s first delivery of a consumer product by drone to a customer. The test was conducted in England because Amazon says the UK’s regulations are less restrictive. Trump has vowed to ease regulations across the government.