World Economic Forum Congress Centre
10:15 A.M. CET
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning. Thank you for coming. I apologize that we are late. This session is on background, attributable to a senior administration official.
There is no recording of this other than for notes. There’s no broadcast recording, no video, and please no stills.
And with that said, [senior administration official], would you like to start?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Good morning. It’s good to be with all of you.
The President looks forward to addressing the forum later this afternoon and talking about America and the world, and in particular, America’s place in the world and America’s role in the world.
I think you can expect to hear the President talk about, broadly speaking, three themes in this speech.
The first is that America is open for business again, in the sense that there’s been no better time to build, to invest, to hire in the United States. And you can expect him to talk about some of the policy priorities and accomplishments of his administration thus far, and the policy orientation designed to help unleash economic growth and create a very business-friendly climate.
So the significant tax cuts and tax reform, especially on the business and international sides; his very successful efforts thus far at regulatory reform and relief, seeking to roll back burdensome regulations and create a more business-friendly environment; efforts at boosting energy production and keeping energy costs low. And you can also expect the President to tout many of the economic successes of the United States; many of the leading economic indicators that attest to the United States being a very business-friendly environment — the GDP growth, stock market records, unemployment, and job creation.
The second theme that I think that you will hear the President speak to relates to America’s engagement in the world. So a vision for U.S. participation in the global economic order, but on terms that are fair and equitable. So an example would be United States engagement in the international trading system; a commitment to free and open trade, but on terms that are fair and reciprocal; commitment to trade enforcement, enforcing trade agreements and trade laws and trade norms; no longer tolerating things like the theft of intellectual property or forced technology transfers, industrial subsidies, state economic planning, dumping, those sorts of things.
But in the context that it’s only by enforcing the rules of the road and ensuring that all countries play by the rules — the rules of international trade — that we can preserve and maintain the integrity of the international trading system. So very much that trade enforcement — meaningful, rigorous, fair trade enforcement — is a way of supporting the global trading system.
As well as on the security side, I think you’ll hear him call on the international community to work together towards a variety of shared goals, things like defeating ISIS, applying maximum pressure to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, combatting terrorism in all of its forms and varieties.
And finally, I think you’ll hear the President articulate a vision of free and sovereign nations cooperating towards shared goals — peace, security, prosperity, and in particular, given the theme of this year’s forum, empowerment, lifting up and empowering the forgotten men and women in the United States and throughout the world.
So with that as, sort of, a thematic backdrop of what you can expect to hear the President speak to this afternoon, I’m happy to take your questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, when you ask a question, I’ll call on you. Please say your name and the media outlet. Ma’am.
Q (Inaudible) from CNN. Did the President order Robert Mueller to be fired?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, that’s beyond the scope of the themes of the speech, and not something that I care to discuss in this forum. Thanks, though.
Q What was the question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Whether or not the President ordered the firing of Robert Mueller.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, in the back there, in the middle. There’s a microphone right there.
Q Sorry. Peter Baker, New York Times. The President yesterday, in his interview with CNBC, suggested that he was open to rethinking the TPP decision of a year ago. A, will he walk about that in his speech? And B, what would actually cause him to do that? Is there any actual process that would be initiated to do that, or is this just sort of a random thing he says in an interview that wouldn’t actually lead to something?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. So you can certainly expect the President to talk about trade in this speech as part of engagement with the world and with the global economic order.
The President has, over the course of a series of speeches, many of them given during his international travel — the most recent in Danang, Vietnam — has talked about an openness and a desire to engage, in particular, on bilateral trade negotiations, trade agreements. He’s indicated an eagerness to negotiate additional free trade agreements, and even a willingness to engage in the multilateral trade system in general. So I think that those are some of the things that motivated his comments about TPP.
I think that you can expect in his speech for him to speak broadly about what the principles of U.S. engagement would be, and potentially mention some specifics that could include TPP. But a real desire to continue to have America as a leader in free and open trade, but, again, as a leader in ensuring that all nations play by the rules and that trade laws and trade agreements are enforced, such that people can count on the global trading system, and that its integrity can be preserved such that people the people have confidence in it and that all share in the rewards and the upshots of the trading system as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And, Peter, I would just say one thing in addition, which is, he didn’t indicate that he’s rethinking his decision of last year. His decision of last year is — really, his campaign promise was not to be in the TPP as it exists. He stands by that decision. He doesn’t think it was a good deal for the United States as it exists.
What he indicated in the interview is a willingness to perhaps enter a similar trade arrangement with the same nations on different terms, if those terms are fundamentally more favorable to the United States.
Q Will there be follow-through or was that just a general statement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There will be follow-through. But again, as there’s follow-through on his trade agenda broadly, the USTR is constantly talking to other countries about ways to expand trade in ways that are free and fair and reciprocal, including the renegotiation of existing deals and, perhaps, the renegotiation of deals that haven’t yet been enacted.
But the decision that he made was based on what had been negotiated before he came into office, and he absolutely stands by that. He thought that was a bad deal, and he still thinks that was a bad deal.
Q (Inaudible) with Televisa Mexico. Will the President present his vision on the broad structure of NAFTA 2.0?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is not designed to be a trade speech in particular; more touching on sort of broad themes of U.S. engagement in the world, and certainly in, sort of, the global economic system. He will talk about principles of trade, but I think it unlikely to — he’s unlikely to have time to get down into a great deal of specificity of any particular trade arrangement or trade agreement or trade enforcement action.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just add to that, especially since the negotiation is ongoing between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. And I don’t think — the President would be one of the first to tell you that he doesn’t negotiate things like that in public. These talks are private at the moment, and the United States Trade Representative, along with senior officials from Canada and Mexico, are still talking. And so he’s going to continue those talks in private and see what can be accomplished.
Q Gideon Rachman from the Financial Times. Talking to Cecilia Malmström yesterday, who’s the EU’s lead person on trade, she responded to Wilbur Ross’s comments about a trade war already being underway, and said talk of a trade war was irresponsible. She also said that the EU is extremely alarmed by the way the Trump administration is blocking the appointment of new judges at the World Trade Organization. Given what you just said about the President’s preference for bilateralism in trade rather than multilateralism, I mean, are the EU right to be alarmed? Is the WTO something that you’re downgrading, really, in your view of how global trade works?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look, as I said before, the President is very committed to ensuring that all nations and all participants in the global trading system play by the same set of rules so that the prosperity that’s generated can be broadly and fairly shared, a commitment to fairness and reciprocity.
There are a variety of ways in which those principles are enforced. Some of them relate to domestic law and to various enforcement actions that have been taken. Some relate to negotiations between countries. And some relate to various enforcement actions at bodies like the WTO.
I think the President is very much committed to ensuring that, in all of those trade relationships and all of those trading arrangements, that they are free and are open but also conducted on the basis of fairness and reciprocity. And sometimes that can include having to reform some of the ways in which trade agreements and trade arrangements are enforced.
But I don’t expect that you will hear in this speech today a great deal of detail about particular WTO actions or WTO reforms, although that remains a priority for Ambassador Lighthizer. It’s something that he has spoken to in the past and continues to be engaged in presently.
Q Thanks so much. Joe Hayes from ITV News. Which nations aren’t playing by the rules? And will President Trump be naming them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, in such a brief speech, I don’t think that you’re likely to hear the President name individual nations — particular nations — in a speech such as this.
You know, I think that you’re likely to see — you have already, in some of the actions that Ambassador Lighthizer has taken, in some of the anti-dumping countervailing duty cases that have been brought through the department of Commerce, and a whole variety of trade enforcement actions that have taken place and that may take place in the future — that you’ll see examples of areas of countries, of particular products where there’s a sense that there are unfair trade practices.
And that’s likely to be, sort of, the venue and the forum in which you would see sort of a nation-by-nation or product line-by product-line type analysis. Unlikely to see a whole lot of that in a 10- or 15-minute speech here at the WEF.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION: I would just add to that. The President hasn’t been shy about stating his views on which countries and which specific practices he objects to, both as a candidate and as President. And he’s even done so in specific countries, in specific meetings with specific leaders, on the record, on camera.
So he’s been quite clear about this, and I agree with my colleague that this is not a speech to necessarily name names. It’s to lay out broad principles. And it’s fundamentally an optimistic speech that tells people the story of the U.S. economy in 2017 and his hopes for the U.S. economy in 2018 and 2019, going forward, and that this is a great time to invest in America, but that trade needs to be conducted on a — I was going to say on a fundamentally different basis, but that’s not really right. On a — according to rules that we’ve all agreed to that maybe have been unevenly enforced, but that he’s saying that the period of, sort of, toleration for that on the part of the United States is over with the advent of a new administration.
Q Hi, Miriam Elder from Buzzfeed News. In light of the New York Times report that President Trump was prepared to fire Mueller, do you still feel confident serving this administration? And how do you address concerns that that report will likely overshadow what by all accounts sounds like an optimistic speech?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I feel 100 percent confident serving this administration.
Q Hi, Jen Rogers, Yahoo Finance. Do you think we can hear anything on immigration or border security?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think the President will touch on a whole range of international affairs and, sort of, homeland security issues. I think he may well touch on immigration in, sort of, the context of describing some of the objectives of immigration systems, some of the shared goals, and some of the ways in which that affects international relationships.
But that is not necessarily going to be a primary theme of the speech or a topic, given how brief the speech is, and given, sort of, the nature of the audience of the forum and of the themes that’s we’ve talked about — talking about America’s economic reconnaissance of now being a good time to do business in the United States and of really, sort of, laying out even more of a vision for the United States engagement in the world, economically and otherwise. Immigration, obviously, plays a role in that, and I think you can expect a mention, but this is not primarily a speech about immigration.
Q Hi, thanks so much. It’s Heather Timmons from Quartz. A number of CEOs from African nations I’ve talked to have said they’re considering boycotting this speech, or they may walk out in the middle of it. Can you tell us what the President is going to say today to the President of Rwanda? And is he going to apologize? And if so, what for?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There’s a lot of common interests between the United States and Africa. This is — in a way, it’s a follow-up to a lunch the President held in the United Nations General Assembly week in September with a number of African heads of government and heads of state. So there’s areas of security cooperation that the United States and African leaders — and remember that the President of Rwanda is the head of the African Union now.
There’s areas of security cooperation that they’ll talk about, trade cooperation, economic development, various other — not in security, not just in terms of terrorism, although that’s an issue, but there are health issues and a pretty wide range of issues that they’ll talk about to build on a strong relationship the United States has had with African nations for many years, and that this administration has tried to move forward, again, through the U.N. luncheon and through other venues. So this is part of keeping that agenda strong and moving forward.
Q A follow-up question to that. Michelle Caruso-Cabrera from CNBC. Is the President aware that some of these African CEOs are threatening a boycott or threatening to walk out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s not something I’ve heard him talk about. I think he’s focused on giving a great speech. He’s happy with the reception he’s had at the World Economic Forum. He’s, really, very pleased with the reception he’s had. He came with a strong message that America is open for business. And he looks forward to repeating that business in the highest-profile venue of the forum for him, which is a speech to leaders. And so he’s going to do that. It’s a great, sort of, capstone and high point, right as he returns to the United States. It will be his last event here.
Q Hi, Luciana Coehlo with (inaudible) Sao Paulo, Brazil. Some foreign officials have said that President Trump may leave the door open to rejoin the Paris Agreement, in the speech. Is that so?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you don’t need foreign officials to tell you that he’s left the door open to rejoin the Paris Agreement because the President himself has said that he’s open to rejoining the Paris Agreement. And, in fact, he said it in the very speech in which he announced, initially, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. So it’s something that he’s still open to. Again, the same point I would make about this, I already made about the TPP: He’s open to rejoining, if the terms are different and if the terms are better for the United States.
You will later today — I think they’ve already started to preview it in an interview that he did with Piers Morgan, with CNN International. And this very question he was asked, and he spoke at length about the United States’ environmental record and about his administration’s agenda for environmental protection, including water and clean air and conservation, all of which he feels very strongly about.
He just thought that the Paris Agreement, as drafted and as entered into by the previous administration, put too many constraints on the U.S. economy and put the U.S. economy at a vast disadvantage to other economies. So his objection to the Paris Agreement was not in any way related to its goals of environmental protection; it was the way that it enacted environmental restrictions and the way that it restricted the U.S. economy vis-à-vis other countries. And if that can be fixed, he said six months ago, he’s open to rejoining, or to joining a new agreement.
Q Will there be a specific mention?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t think that’s likely to come up as part of the speech, although there are any number of topics that he could mention and discuss. But again, the focus is going to be on the United States and its approach, its posture towards, and its involvement in, the international community and, in particular, sort of, the global economic community. And that will be the primary theme.
Q Thank you. (Inaudible), Bloomberg News. How do you explain the apparent difference in opinion between the President and his Treasury Secretary in their view of the U.S. dollar? It cost a lot of volatility in markets over the last 48 hours.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t think there’s any daylight between the President and Secretary Mnuchin. I think that there were some people who took some comments that the Secretary made, where he was essentially reciting and explaining, in a descriptive manner, a basic economic principle, and took it to represent some sort of normative judgment or some sort of policy announcement or shift. When you go back and look at the transcript of what he said, it was quite clear that that was not the case. And I think that’s been borne out in all of the successive comments that he’s made and the President has made.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you very much. Have a good day.
10:37 A.M. CET