When asked what it’s like to “navigate the age of Donald Trump” on Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Jeffrey Immelt, the chairman and CEO of GE, was at first reluctant to offer a critique. “Thanks for that question,” he said with a sarcastic chuckle. His role is “first and foremost to run a good company,” he said. “We’re businesspeople. We should participate politically when it’s meaningful or when we should, but most of the time, we should just run our companies and run them successfully.”
Then, after a few moments of reflection, he voiced a critique of the Trump Administration in one area: its approach to engagement with the rest of the world. At GE, he said, “we’re true to who we are, we stand up for things, so I’d be the first to say that this country needs a bilateral relationship with China. The notion that the two largest economies in the world don’t have a meaningful bilateral relationship, I don’t know how many people in this room think that’s a good idea. I don’t get it.”
Asked about Mexico, he said that the business community has to come up with a better case for NAFTA than the argument that getting rid of it will raise costs to consumers.
He was then asked about the Paris Climate Accords––President Trump recently withdrew the United States from participation in the international agreement to combat climate change.
“I think it’s always good when the US engages,” Immelt answered. “I used to say to President Obama, don’t do trade deals for GE. We don’t really need them anymore. If we can’t navigate the world on our own ... Do them for yourself. In other words, the US has a powerful military. We also have the world’s best economy. If the president of the United States is using both of those he’s stronger. If we just have a military but don’t interconnect our economy with the rest of the world we’re weaker. So I’m not for the Paris Accord because it indicates where we invest,” he concluded. “We’re going to make the same investments we’re going to make. But I worry about it in the regard of it doesn’t project strength that we want our country to have on the global stage … We have such a unique country, that’s giving something up.”