Ford CEO Upbeat on China Prospects as Trump-Xi Meeting Goes Smoothly

Donald Trump’s meeting with Xi Jingping’s has seemingly gone off without a hitch, spelling good news for businesses fearful it could spark a deterioration in trade ties between the world’s two largest economies. Not much in the way of policy substance ensued, though the early CEO reaction has been positive.

Ford’s Mark Fields, who spoke over the weekend at a promotional event in Shanghai, told journalists he was encouraged by the Florida meeting between the U.S. and Chinese heads of state.

“When you have two leaders meet face to face, they become people to each other,” Fields told Bloomberg. “That’s a very firm foundation to then go off and make concrete advances to strengthen business ties between the two countries. I feel that’s very possible.”

Trump had been talking tough ahead of the 18-hour meeting, predicting on Twitter that it would be “a very difficult one”. A U.S. airstrike on Syria provided an early distraction, though by Friday talk of the encounter was positive.

“WE SEE A SIGNIFICANT WHITE SPACE OPPORTUNITY WITH CHINESE BUYERS INCREASINGLY LOOKING FOR MORE CAPABLE, MORE REFINED AND MORE STYLISH PICKUPS.”

“It was a great honor to have President Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan of China as our guests in the United States. Tremendous…goodwill and friendship was formed, but only time will tell on trade,” Trump tweeted on Saturday.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said it was clear that China wanted to work with America. “The objective is for us to increase our exports to them,” he said. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, meanwhile, appeared to be encouraged by signs that China wanted to consume more American-made products.

Ross said the leaders had agreed to formulate a “100-day” plan aimed at reducing America’s more than $300 billion trade deficit with its second-biggest trading partner after the European Union.

China is one of Ford’s largest markets, though it’s still more difficult for foreign companies to do business there than in many other countries. The likes of Ford, for example, must partner with a local operator to make things there. For instance, it has a 50-50 joint venture with Changan Automobiles.

On Saturday, Ford announced it would try to sell more of its pickup trucks in China, which is lifting restrictions on their use in cities. The country is already the fourth-largest truck market in the world despite pickup tracks only representing 2% of sales. “We see a significant white-space opportunity with Chinese buyers increasingly looking for more capable, more refined and more stylish pickups,” Fields said in a statement.

Asian and European stock markets opened broadly flat or lower this morning, though traders said the negative sentiment was driven by geopolitical concerns associated with the Middle East, rather than any pessimism stemming from Trump and Xi’s meeting.

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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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