CEOs Accompany Globe-Trotting Trump to Forge Offshore Deals

The unprecedented involvement of CEOs in Donald Trump’s administration has extended to his official overseas visits, with around 30 invited to attend a summit with Saudi Arabian dignitaries over the weekend.

The trip has given business an even greater exposure to America’s foreign policy agenda, which is already being overseen by former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson in his capacity as Secretary of State. Business leaders will be hopeful such summits will at least encourage bilateral cross-border deals amid concerns the administration will continue to distance itself from multi-lateral free-trade agreements.

As part of a speech delivered at the Riyadh Four Seasons hotel on Sunday, the president confirmed that the U.S and Saudi Arabia had signed agreements involving the investment of $400 billion in their respective countries, including a $110 billion arms supply deal. Some of the agreements, however, were early-stage “memorandums of understanding” that didn’t include binding commitments.

“To the leaders and citizens of every country assembled here today, I want you to know that the United States is eager to form closer bonds of friendship, security, culture and commerce,” Trump told the summit.

“To the leaders and citizens of every country assembled here today, I want you to know that the United States is eager to form closer bonds of friendship, security, culture and commerce.”

Although it’s common for business leaders and politicians to be present during individual deal-signing ceremonies, It’s rare for world leaders to invite CEOs to important political summits. In this instance, though, Trump perhaps took a leaf from Angela Merkel’s book: in March, the German chancellor brought the heads of BMW and Siemens along to her first meeting with Trump.

Lockheed Martin, targeted previously by the president for the cost of its defense tenders, appeared to be a major beneficiary in this instance. On Saturday, it announced that Saudi Arabia had agreed to procure $28 billion worth of arms from the company, including tactical aircraft and missile defense systems.

Speaking from Riyadh, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson said she was proud to be involved in U.S, Saudi relations. “We are especially proud of how our broad portfolio of advanced global security products and technologies will enhance national security in Saudi Arabia, strengthen the cause of peace in the region and provide the foundation for job creation and economic prosperity in the U.S. and in the Kingdom.”

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was also sure to mention the number of jobs created via its new deals. Boeing confirmed on Sunday that it had agreed to provide Saudi Arabia with more combat helicopters, patrol aircraft and commercial aircraft. “I appreciate the efforts of King Salman, President Trump and his administration to support American manufacturers as we seek to grow at home and around the world,” Muilenburg said.

Blackstone, meanwhile, announced it had formed a $40 billion investment joint venture with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund that would largely fund infrastructure projects in the U.S.

The Saudi Arabian visit marked the president’s first official overseas trip and is part of a whirlwind tour that includes stops in Israel, Belgium and Italy. It’s not clear whether any CEOs will accompany the presidents on these subsequent legs.

Among others attending in Riyadh were JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, GE’s Jeff Immelt, Blackstone’s Steven Schwarzman and Dow Chemical’s Andrew Liveris.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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