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It’s been almost two years of back-and-forth between Apple and the Trump Administration when it comes to U.S. job creation, tariffs on Apple products, and the ongoing U.S.-China trade war, and now it seems like President Donald Trump finally wants to check out for himself what Apple has been up to.
According to Reuters, tomorrow Apple CEO Tim Cook will host President Trump on a visit to Apple’s facilities in Texas where the company is manufacturing its new Mac Pro. Sources originally told Reuters about the plans early last week, and have now confirmed that it’s been scheduled for Wednesday, although both The White House and Apple declined to comment.
Ostensibly, the trip is part of a tour by Trump to showcase those companies that are creating and keeping jobs in the U.S., which has long been a key platform message of the U.S. President, but it seems quite likely that Cook will continue to use this as an opportunity to try and persuade Trump to leave Apple products out of the tariffs that are increasingly being levied on products coming from China, where Apple does almost all of its manufacturing.
The Mac Pro in Texas
For the past few years, the notable exception to Apple’s Chinese manufacturing sources has been Apple’s flagship Mac Pro computer. When Apple released its redesigned cylindrical 2013 Mac Pro, it also famously moved the production to a U.S. plant — something it could afford to do considering the much lower scale at which it manufacturers the Mac Pro, which is targeted at high-end creative professionals.
Still, Apple’s choice to move manufacturing, or assembly at least, to the U.S. wasn’t without its pitfalls, with production being delayed by things as seemingly minor as the inability of U.S. manufacturing partners to produce a sufficient volume of screws for the machine.
So when reports appeared that Apple’s newly-announced 2019 Mac Pro would be made in China, it wasn’t particularly surprising, although it seems that Apple was also hoping it would be able to convince the Trump administration to keep the Mac Pro out of the trade war, as it had been largely successful in doing for its other products up to that point.
Unfortunately for Apple, it seems that Trump would have none of it, refusing outright to waive tariffs on the Mac Pro, saying that he expected Apple to continue manufacturing it in Texas, as it had done with the prior model. Apple seemingly relented, in a way that suggested that this was its plan all along, announcing in September that it would not only be setting up a plant in Austin, Texas for the new Mac Pro, but emphasizing that many of the components in the new Mac Pro would be “designed, developed, and manufactured by more than a dozen American companies.”
To be fair, it’s not entirely clear whether the early reports of Apple manufacturing the Mac Pro in China were inaccurate, or whether Apple actually changed direction, since at least some components of the machine are still sourced from Chinese suppliers, making it difficult to determine exactly how much Apple originally intended to rely on Chinese manufacturing.
This time around, however, Apple is quick to point out that the new Mac Pro relies on fewer foreign-manufactured components than the 2013 model did, although it’s still been generally vague about the number of foreign components that it’s bringing in and exactly where they’re coming from, preferring instead to focus on contributions by U.S. companies.
Apple and the U.S.-China Trade War
Apple’s decision, of course, is a coup for Trump’s “America First” policy, and Cook has been quick to point out how Apple supports 450,000 jobs across 36 states with various U.S. suppliers, and has committed to investing $350 billion in the U.S. economy by 2023.
This has made Apple a poster company for President Trump’s efforts to try and convince other companies to bolster U.S. manufacturing jobs, but it’s also undoubtedly helping Apple’s cause in trying to get those Apple products that are still manufactured in China — which, lets face it, is pretty much everything else — omitted from the tariffs that keep stacking up in the U.S.-China trade war.
Products like the Apple Watch and AirPods got hit with new tariffs back in September, although thus far Apple seems to have been eating those increased costs, rather than passing them on to American consumers. While Apple’s iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks escaped the September round, they’re still scheduled to be subject to a 15 percent tariff come December 15, and Apple accessories like cables and power adapters, which got hit with a 25 percent tariff last spring, are expected to see an increase to 30 percent.
So there’s little doubt that Tim Cook will continue to try and bend Trump’s ear to seek additional tariff relief ahead of the Dec. 15 deadline, and while Trump hasn’t shown any specific indications that he’s about to change his mind, he has acknowledged that Cook makes a good case for why the iPhone, at least, should be left out of the Chinese tariffs, since its largest competitor, Samsung, does most of its manufacturing in South Korea, where it doesn’t have to pay the same tariffs. Trump has gone on the record calling Cook a great executive, and conceding that he wants to help him out in the short-term, although it’s clear he ultimately still expects Apple to move its business out of China in the longer term.