Andrew Liveris, the Australian businessman recruited by Donald Trump to fulfil his pledge to bring back American manufacturing jobs, says the next president’s business-friendly policies will lift the world economy.
He also played down the prospect of a Trump-ignited global trade war.
The chief executive of US multinational giant Dow Chemical, Mr Liveris was appointed chair of the President-elect’s American Manufacturing Council. He was hailed by Mr Trump as “one of the most respected businessmen in the world”.
In an exclusive interview, Mr Liveris lauded Mr Trump’s pro-business policies of tax reform, eliminating stifling “red tape” regulation from the Obama administration and boosting infrastructure investment by $US1 trillion.
Darwin-born Mr Liveris, who earlier warmly embraced the President-elect on stage before thousands of noisy Trump supporters at a rally in Michigan on Friday, ventured that US economic growth could surge to 4 per cent.
“We’ve been living in a low-growth, volatile world for the past many years,” Mr Liveris told The Australian Financial Review.
“We all think these new policies, which are pro-business and pro-growth, will help stimulate the US economy, especially on the investment side.”
“If the US economy can hit 4 per cent growth, that’s not only good for America, it’s good for the world.”
Mr Liveris has led the advanced manufacturing giant Dow for the past 12 years in Michigan, a pivotal “rust belt” state where working class voters helped propel Mr Trump to his shock presidential election win last month.
Mr Trump, a Republican, successfully wooed traditional Democratic blue collar Americans by blasting international trade deals and environmental regulations for killing jobs in the manufacturing, steel and coal industries.
Amid global unease that Mr Trump might carry out election campaign threats to slap tariffs of up to 45 per cent on China and spark a trade war that could drive the global economy into recession, Mr Liveris said the President-elect just wanted “fair trade”.
“I do think the trade agenda under this administration will be from of a point of view of level playing field,” he said.
American executives are frustrated that China and other emerging economies have been slower to open up their markets for US firms..
The appointment of the University of Queensland-trained chemical engineer turned globetrotting businessman is a new link for Australia into the Trump team.
Mr Liveris, a consummate political and business networker around the world with ties to the Clintons, is an acquaintance of Malcolm Turnbull. He spent Easter Sunday at the Prime Minister’s Sydney home this year and is a member of the Turnbull government’s Industry Growth Centres Advisory Committee.
“It is outstanding to see such a qualified Australian as part of Mr Trump’s team,” Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Trade and Investment Minister Steven Ciobo said in a joint statement on Sunday.
As the head of the 25-member Manufacturing Council the Dow boss will make policy recommendations to Mr Trump’s Commerce secretary nominee, billionaire industrialist Wilbur Ross, to increase US manufacturing and employment.
There are about five million fewer American manufacturing jobs than 20 years ago. This is due largely to a combination of automation, the wrenching 2008 recession and company relocation to cheaper-labour countries such as Mexico and China.
At a rockstar-like reception in Michigan, Mr Trump said Mr Liveris was “committed to returning jobs to the United States of America” and “nobody can do it like Andrew”.
The ebullient Australian returned the favour, saying “you’re paving the way with your administration with your policies to make it easier to do business in this country. Not a red tape country, but a red carpet country for businesses.”
Some economists have expressed scepticism that Mr Trump can make good on his promise to bring back manufacturing jobs for blue collar workers, pointing to the rise of automation and competition from cheaper labour countries overseas.
Mr Liveris is a long-time advocate of the employment benefits to a country from a vibrant manufacturing sector. This view is reflected in his book, Make It In America: The Case for Re-Inventing the Economy. It suggests pursuing advanced value-added manufacturing by improving infrastructure, research and development, education, a level playing field trade policy with limited tariffs, utilising cheap energy to fuel production plants, regulatory reform and tax changes.
In the interview, Mr Liveris said Mr Trump’s plan to slash “complex” regulation, “reset” corporate and personal taxes and invest in infrastructure would help.
America could grow integrated manufacturing, he said, from foundation industries such as basic metals and chemicals through the production chain to more modern activities such as electronics, technology, clean energy and high-tech cars.
“You can revitalise foundation industries and your poster child is Dow,” Mr Liveris said.
“We’ve taken chemicals and advanced the technology to materials and value-added products.”
Mr Liveris is finalising a $US130 billion merger and of Dow and DuPont, a historic deal that is expected to be executed early next year if European authorities approve it before he steps down after a 40-year career.
Mr Trump’s hiring of the 62-year old Australian signals that, like Mr Liveris, the President-elect is prepared to be flexible and work with people who have Democratic or Republican links.
Mr Liveris, who has financially contributed to both Democrats and Republicans in earlier elections, has been a member of President Obama’s trade and manufacturing committees.
The son of Greek migrants is an acquaintance of Bill and Hillary Clinton, having donated generously to the Clinton Foundation. He appointed Bill as the honorary chairman of his Greek charity, The Hellenic Initiative.
In an AFR BOSS Magazine profile in September, Mr Liveris said that as the CEO of a public company he would not officially endorse Trump or Clinton. At the time, he said Mrs Clinton was “the better candidate” and he wanted to see “substance” from Mr Trump.
Since the election, Mr Trump has injected more confidence into business and financial markets by dialling back on some of his blistering rhetoric.
Yet underlining Mr Trump’s trade protectionist instincts, he has announced the US will withdraw from the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Commerce secretary-in-waiting Wilbur Ross is a long-time critic of America’s trade deals for losing manufacturing jobs to Mexico and China.
Mr Liveris supported President Obama’s TPP.
Mr Liveris was first approached a few weeks ago by Mr Trump’s team, before agreeing with Mr Trump to take on the job at an interview at Trump Tower in New York last week.
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