At her meeting with Donald Trump, billed as a clash of the Western world’s political odd couple, Angela Merkel attempted to harmonize relations by appealing to the President’s business background.
BMW CEO Harald Krueger and Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser accompanied the German Chancellor across the Atlantic to join the milestone meeting that was expected to concentrate heavily on trade policy.
Trump already has hosted dozens of American CEOs in Washington, New York and Florida, though it’s not clear whether Merkel’s move will inspire him to invite any to Friday’s event, which was postponed from Tuesday due to a snowstorm.
Relations already were frosty before this morning’s blizzard hit. Trump’s trade advisor this year accused Germany of exploiting a “grossly undervalued” euro to gain an unfair advantage, a claim that Merkel has rejected, given that European monetary policy is set independently by the European Central Bank.
The president also has directly threatened German automakers, including BMW, for building cars in Mexico.
“If you want to build cars in the world, then I wish you all the best. You can build cars for the United States, but for every car that comes to the USA, you will pay a 35% tax,” Trump told Germany’s Bild newspaper in January.
BMW’s Krueger responded to Trump’s remarks by highlighting that the company employed around 70,000 people in the U.S, which happens to be the home of its biggest manufacturing facility. “Free trade has only made this success story in the U.S. possible—70% of the automobiles produced here are exported,” Krueger said.
The company is pressing on with the construction of a new $1 billion car factory in Mexico, due to go into production in 2019.
At Friday’s meeting, both CEOs are expected to stress the number of people they employ in America. Siemens currently has around 50,000 staff in the U.S.
Siemens’ Kaeser initially called on the world to give Trump’s presidency a chance, but later became a fierce critic of the president’s immigration ban. “What we are seeing worries us,” he said. “America became great through immigrants. I hope that this great country will recall what has made it great.”
The criticism was particularly searing since it played on Trump’s catch cry to “make America great again”.
The topic of immigration could also feature in this week’s conversation, with Trump having been a vocal critic of Merkel’s decision to allows tens of thousands of refugees to enter Germany.