Over dinner this weekend, Apple CEO Tim Cook has seemingly added to the softening position President Trump is taking on trade tariffs imposed on goods and services from China.
The last week has seen several new rumours emerge from the mill, suggesting the White House is backing away from its aggressive stance against China. It of course remains to be seen whether Congress will allow Trump to de-escalate the situation, though it does appear Trump wants to switch-up the rhetoric.
“I had a very good meeting with Tim Cook, I have a lot of respect for Tim Cook, and Tim was talking to me about tariffs,” Trump said to US reporters over the weekend.
“And one of the things is that he made a good case, is that Samsung is the number one competitor and Samsung is not paying tariffs because they are based in South Korea, and it’s tough for Apple to pay tariffs if they are competing with a very good company that is not.”
Having dinner tonight with Tim Cook of Apple. They will be spending vast sums of money in the U.S. Great!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2019
Finding consistency in the Trump rhetoric is similar to discussion the pros and cons of VAR with the Mad Hatter. Aside from these comments, some US companies will supposedly have until Christmas to work with Chinese suppliers, Huawei Technologies will allegedly be given another three months to buy from US suppliers and Trump has promised violence against protesters in Hong Kong will negatively affect trade talks.
Looking at the extension, sources are now suggesting Huawei will be granted another temporary general licence. The additional three-month window will offer another reprieve to US suppliers, though it is highly-likely Congress will start to throw a bit of a temper tantrum. Political opponents of Trump have already shown distaste for the mood swings of the President, and we suspect road-blocks will be introduced.
The only consistency from the trade conflict between the worlds’ two largest economies is inconsistency.
We are yet to read Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” but perhaps there is a chapter on shifting goal posts. The strategy from the White House seems to be escalate and de-escalate tensions regularly, perhaps to confuse political opponents in Beijing so a cohesive counter-strategy cannot be formed.
Here, Cook’s comments are exactly what you would expect from a CEO who has little concern with geo-politics. Cook and the Apple management team will not want to take sides, simply sell iPhones to iLifers, irrelevant to where they live, at a price which generates the most profit. The tariffs threaten this mission.
Apple might be able to recover its second-place in the smartphone market share rankings before too long, such is the damage which is being dealt to the Huawei consumer business, but how will Samsung benefit?
If Huawei’s international customers stop buying Huawei devices, sales will be redirected elsewhere. However, if Apple is not able to keep the price of its devices down, it will struggle to compete. Apple will firstly have to convince Android users to switch to iOS, but also not to be tempted by Samsung, or more price-sensitive brands such as OPPO, LG, OnePlus or Xiaomi.
What is not entirely clear is how broad the tariffs conversation actually was. We suspect Cook simply argued Apple should be exempt from the tariffs, why should he want to help anyone else, though there will be plenty of companies keeping an eye on the developing situation. Trump could find himself in a very difficult situation if preference is shown to a few hand selected companies.
If there is a game plan scribbled on the back of a Burger King menu somewhere in the Oval Office, it will either be the musings of a mad-man or the work of a strategic genius. The number of moving parts and dummy passes is enough to make anyone’s head spin.