Trump strikes supportive tone in meeting with UK business chiefs

US president Donald Trump struck a positive, conciliatory tone with top British and US business leaders at a meeting in London on Tuesday (4), sources familiar with the talks said, despite tensions between the two countries over China’s Huawei.

In a breakfast gathering with 10 executives at St James’ Palace, Trump mentioned the strong historical ties between the two countries and praised British investment in the US healthcare sector, in particular, the sources said.

Trump had earlier promised Britain a substantial post-Brexit trade deal, during a state visit to Britain being cast as a chance to celebrate Britain’s “special relationship” with the US and boost trade links.

Hopes of fostering such a deal and improved investment ties between the two nations have been overshadowed by a row over Britain’s plans to allow Huawei a limited role in building 5G networks, which the Trump administration opposes.

The meeting involved top executives from British firms including defence and aerospace-focused BAE Systems, Barclays bank, pharma giant GSK, the National Grid, and consumer goods maker Reckitt Benckiser.

US firms present included engineering and construction firm Bechtel, the banks Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin and software firm Splunk.

Each company had two to three minutes to speak, one of the sources said, with most of the British firms using their time to talk up their investments in the US.

Reckitt Benckiser CEO Rakesh Kapoor told Trump his company planned to invest an addition $200 million between its British and US businesses his year, including a $70m investment in a Michigan manufacturing facility.

Patricia O’Hayer, Reckitt’s global head of communications and government affairs, said they also discussed the huge rise in healthcare expenditure caused by ageing populations in the US and Britain, and whether de-regulating over-the-counter (OTC) medicine to encourage more ‘self-care’ would help with this challenge.

Reckitt’s conversation was more about “how do we support the crumbling healthcare system, by reducing the burden of regulation, especially in the area of OTC,” O’Hayer said.

The company also said it was launching a partnership with Walmart and Health 4 All to promote ‘self-care’.

People present described the US president’s tone during the meeting as “supportive” and constructive, with the meeting divided into themes of infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, innovation, regulation, and services.

“The President was very engaged and forward-looking, stressing the importance of R&D,” said one person briefed on the meeting.

Banks discussed fintech, digitisation and the need for co-operation on cutting edge technology according to one source.

Trump stayed after the formal talks were finished to speak individually with the business leaders, the sources said.