A nation open for business under Trump

Ford's announcement last week that it would invest US$700 million (S$1 billion) and create 700 jobs in Michigan to build electric vehicles is the latest indication that American companies expect the US business climate to improve under a Donald Trump administration.

A significant source of this optimism is the team the President- elect has assembled. It is filled with appointees who have extensive private sector experience.

With a federal budget of more than 20 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product and a regulatory code exceeding 175,000 pages, the government's outsized role in the economy is undeniable. It makes sense, therefore, for the president to fill important jobs with people who understand how economies are run and businesses succeed.

Accomplished business leaders such as Mr Steven Mnuchin, Mr Wilbur Ross, Ms Linda McMahon and Mr Andrew Puzder will help keep the government focused on faster economic growth and job creation that reaches all regions and communities.

Mr Trump also intends to place business executives in what are generally thought of as non-economic jobs. The most interesting example is the nomination of Mr Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil chairman and chief executive, as secretary of state. Mr Tillerson has engaged in complex negotiations with the leaders of dozens of countries, invaluable experience that even many top US diplomats cannot match.

Business adversaries are already complaining about the danger of cronyism and conflicts of interest, but if we want to fix the economy, we must move away from the notion that the government exists primarily to police business with regulators who have little knowledge of the industries they regulate.

The Ford display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, on Tuesday. The automaker's plan to invest $1 billion to build electric vehicles and create 700 jobs in Michigan is the latest sign that American companies expect th
The Ford display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, on Tuesday. The automaker's plan to invest $1 billion to build electric vehicles and create 700 jobs in Michigan is the latest sign that American companies expect the US business climate to improve under the Trump administration, the writer says. PHOTO: REUTERS

The 2016 election was a mandate for change but the outsider candidate is also including seasoned insiders on his team. It has been noted frequently that Mr Trump will be the first president to serve without political, government or military experience. In the business world, confident executives select senior deputies with an eye on filling the gaps in their own professional backgrounds. The President-elect has recognised this by choosing individuals with deep experience in government, politics and the military.

The linchpin of his team is Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, who has been a legislator in Congress and a state governor, and whose family owned and ran a small business. He enjoys high credibility with the Republican base and in the business community.

It is the Senate's responsibility to vet rigorously all nominees requiring confirmation. This should be done swiftly so the new administration can hit the ground running. President Barack Obama benefited from a bipartisan approach to Senate confirmations during his transition. President-elect Trump deserves the same consideration.

From tax, healthcare, legal and regulatory reform to the expansion of infrastructure, business sees many opportunities. However, my colleagues and I in the US Chamber of Commerce do not expect to agree with the administration on everything. When we do not agree, we will say so - just as we did during the presidential campaign, when we criticised some of Mr Trump's positions, particularly on trade and immigration.

Progress will not come overnight. It will require compromises, which will no doubt spur accusations of "selling out" from absolutists on the left and right. The American people, known for their practicality, should take these attacks with a pinch of salt.

Strategic deal-making leading to incremental yet steady progress is a tenet of success in business. It can work in our messy democracy, too, if we the people give the business approach to governing an honest chance.

FINANCIAL TIMES

•The writer is president and chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2017, with the headline 'A nation open for business under Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe