LONDON ― During his time in office, U.S. President Donald Trump has shown a particular affinity for Boeing, appearing multiple times with CEO Dennis Muilenburg and famously closing a speech by saying “God bless Boeing.”
But as the White House pursues a series of tariffs against Europe and China, the Boeing head is warning that such moves could have a serious impact on his company.
“Our key focus here is ensuring that we continue to have a free flow of trade and our focus really on continuing to enable open and free trade around the world,” Muilenburg said Sunday at a media event held before the Farnborough Airshow, adding that he was “concerned” about some of the rhetoric around tariffs and trade restrictions.
“All of those fabrics of global relationships are important to our business,” he said. “Aerospace thrives on global trade, free and open trade.”
Muilenburg’s comments Sunday are a perfect example of the thin line American executives are threading right now.
Trump has made manufacturing in America a key part of his national policy, and he has lashed out at American companies that move or increase manufacturing jobs abroad. But Boeing is trying to sell more equipment to Europe, and that often requires offsets and job creation locally to complete a sale.
Hence, the scene of one of Trump’s favorite American CEOs advertising that his company has more than “doubled” its investment in the European supply chain over the last five years, while also noting the aerospace sector provides a major trade surplus for America.
“Throughout Europe we have hundreds of suppliers, and I think our spend here in Europe was around €8 billion across our supply chain,” Muilenburg said. “We’re in it for the long run. We’re a business with a long-term perspective.”
The Boeing head said the defense sector has not seen any defense impact from the trade conflicts so far, but acknowledged greater concern on the commercial side, where the supply chain and potential sales to China could be imperiled in the future if tariff and counter-tariff exchanges break out.
Given his relationship with Trump, and the apparent disconnect between Boeing and the White House on trade issues, Muilenburg was asked if he felt his viewpoint was being heard inside the Oval Office. He pointed to other issues, such as last year’s tax cuts and changes in regulations, as signs that the company’s voice does indeed carry weight.
“We’re very much engaged and at the table. Our voice is being heard,” he said. “This trade topic is difficult. It’s multidimensional. … There are other areas where rhetoric around tariffs and potential penalty actions are a concern to us. But in every case, we have a voice at the table and I think our perspective is being well-considered.”
“We win when we have that long-term perspective,” he said later in the breifing. “We’re going to be a voice at the table to try and resolve the issues, but we’re always going to maintain our long-term view.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.