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China technology

Foxconn chairman sees biggest challenge in US-China trade war

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 10:45am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 1:40pm

Terry Gou Tai-ming, the billionaire chairman of Apple's main iPhone assembler, said the biggest challenge facing his Foxconn Technology Group is a trade war between the US and China.

Foxconn has a number of response plans to a trade war, Gou said, without elaborating, at the annual shareholder meeting of Hon Hai Precision Industry, his main listed unit. While Foxconn is a Taiwanese company, it puts together iPhones and other gadgets at plants across mainland China.

Foxconn, which is China’s largest private employer and has about a million on its payroll, is sensitive to any escalation in the trade dispute that impacts on Apple, the source of more than half of Hon Hai’s revenue. China’s rising economic and technological prowess is at the heart of a dispute with the US that, while waged through retaliatory trade tariffs, is also aimed at prying open the Asian nation to US businesses and restricting the use of government aid to advance strategically important industries.

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“The biggest challenge facing Foxconn is a US-China trade war,” Gou said. “The trade war is not about trade, but it is a tech war, and it is a manufacturing war.”

Gou refrained from criticising either side in current negotiations, saving his sharpest comments for domestic labour laws, arguing that “unreasonable” restrictions on overtime hours hurt his workers and the company’s competitiveness. He told shareholders that his workers actually want to work more hours and that forcing them to put in less time reduces their income.

Foxconn has drawn fire for years over practices such as allowing overtime to soar during the peak season, when it sharply ramps up production to get devices to market in time for the holidays.

Gou argued that Foxconn should be governed by US regulations since, as the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer, a large swathe of its customers from Apple to Amazon.com are American. The Foxconn founder also repeated a pledge to employ robots to replace 80 per cent of workers in coming years, as one potential solution.

“China has tougher overtime regulations than the US and the European Union, and they understand those are unreasonable regulations, unreasonable laws,” Gou said. “Right now during the low season we are following China’s regulations, and in the peak season we are following US regulations.”