In other words: If you want more Chevys in Manhattan, don’t impose a tariff on imports of German cars. Compete better with German cars.
Despite Trump’s moves to withdraw from and renegotiate free-trade agreements, despite his talk of tariffs and border walls, Kaeser maintains that the United States remains a global leader on free trade. “Factually, it is,” he said. “If you look at how many companies work with Microsoft Office in the world or [how many people] have Apple iPhones or use Facebook or look for data on Google, what else would you need to have a living example about free trade in action?” As for whether the U.S. government is still supportive of the rules and institutions that sustain free trade around the world, the businessman notes that, on the question of the Trump administration pursuing protectionist policies, “so far, nothing [has] really happened, right? Except an ongoing debate. I believe that at the end factual evidence will prevail.”
Kaeser told me he is impressed by the team Trump has assembled, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and economic adviser Gary Cohn. “There might be some particularities to one person, but if the team around him or her is right, it makes a big difference,” he said.
He understands why the Trump administration has proposed reducing the corporate tax rate, which he agrees is “among the highest in the world” and can inhibit investment in the United States. But he adds that his business decisions in America—Siemens’s biggest market by far—are influenced less by the U.S. tax code than by the country’s large and attractive customer base. The more competitive the U.S. tax rate, the more American companies that buy Siemens products can invest, Kaeser reasoned, “and if companies invest more, there is more employment. If there’s more employment, people buy more.”
Unlike a number of German government officials, Kaeser didn’t seem especially rattled by the prospect of the American president following through on his threat to abandon the nuclear agreement with Iran, with which Siemens struck infrastructure deals following the lifting of international sanctions against the Iranians last year. (The company’s relationship with Iran long predates these agreements; when the Obama administration sought to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program with cyberattacks, for instance, it targeted Siemens computer systems.) “If the world believes that Iran doesn’t play by the rules and imposes sanctions, then we’ll follow them whether we have an opinion about it or not,” he said.
But Kaeser has pointedly criticized Trump’s travel ban. “This is a treasure for a country: to be considered the role model for peace and freedom and diversity,” he explained. And he urges the United States to stick with its long-standing openness to the wider world. America “invented globalization,” Kaeser observed. “Why would an inventor give up one of the most prestigious inventions they’ve made?”