Trump's decisions as president could help, or hurt his business

US president-elect Donald Trump has yet to commit to setting up a blind trust that would formally sever his ties with his business.
US president-elect Donald Trump has yet to commit to setting up a blind trust that would formally sever his ties with his business. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Any moves by US president-elect Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the United States or bring back waterboarding to interrogate suspects could have repercussions for some of his sprawling foreign business interests - from his golf course in Scotland to luxury resorts in Indonesia.

A review of press releases published on the Trump Organisation website shows that 15 of 25 new acquisitions or joint ventures announced over the past five years were overseas. These include the purchase of golf courses in Ireland and Scotland and deals to license his name to developers and manufacturers in Dubai, Indonesia, India, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Mexico and Panama.

The deals underscore the potential conflicts of interest Mr Trump will face after he is sworn in as president on January 20 and his vulnerability to criticism that he is open to foreign influence. Foreign governments could potentially seek to exploit Mr Trump's business interests to affect his decision-making, or to punish him through his pocket book for decisions they object to.

Mr Trump's transition team declined to comment for this story.

In the 16 months to May, Mr Trump earned up to US$23 million (S$32.74 million) from licensing his name to developers in emerging markets, according to a filing with the US Office of Government Ethics.

"The licensing deals are the best of all because there's no risk," Mr Trump told Reuters in an interview in June. "I have 121 deals right now, going forward, right now, 121, all over the world, in China, in Indonesia," he added.

Mr Trump has said he will hand control of his company to his children.

However, when he met with his Indian business partners last week, it prompted a chorus of criticism that the wall between Mr Trump and his company was still too porous.

The Trump Organisation has said a business structure will be set up that complies with "all applicable rules and regulations".

Mr Trump has yet to commit to setting up a blind trust that would formally sever his ties with his business. "I'm very confident he's not breaking any laws," Ms Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Mr Trump, told reporters at Trump Tower in New York on Monday (Nov 21).


Mr Trump could face a backlash against his business interests in Middle Eastern and Asian markets if he follows through with his campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the United States, and continues to be open to restoring waterboarding - a form of interrogation widely viewed as torture - or creating a national registry for Muslims, analysts said.

"If the Muslim registry is introduced, he will have serious issues finding Muslim local partners," said Professor Koen Pauwels, a marketing specialist at Ozyegin University, Istanbul.

There would be a "backlash" if Mr Trump substantially tightens visa restrictions on Muslim visitors, Prof Pauwels added.

In December 2015, Mr Trump's anti-Muslim comments cost him business in the Middle East when a major chain of department stores halted sales of his glitzy "Trump Home" line of lamps, mirrors and jewellery boxes in the region.

Mr Trump has long identified the Middle East as a major growth market, and his company is working with Dubai-based real estate giant DAMAC Properties to build two golf clubs - including one with a course designed by Tiger Woods - and a gated island community outside the city.

His daughter Ivanka said last year the organisation was in talks on deals in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Mr Trump has a licensing deal with a developer for a Trump-branded retail complex in Istanbul. He also has signed deals in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, to put his name on a redeveloped luxury golf resort in Java and a luxury cliff-top hotel and residential development in Bali.

And it is not just in the Middle East that Mr Trump could face repercussions for any foreign policy decisions.

Mr Trump's 1.5 billion billion-pound golf and residential project north of Aberdeen in Scotland could also be affected, warned councillor Isobel Davidson, who sits on the panel responsible for approving planning applications for the project.

If Mr Trump proceeds with any anti-Muslim proposal, it could make it harder for him to advance his development, she said. "Councillors are not supposed to take the character of the applicant into consideration when we are making a planning decision but sometimes it's quite hard not to," she said.


Analysts said they saw more potential upside for Mr Trump's business from his election than downside. Very simply, people would want to be associated with the personal brand of the US president.

"It will have a boost because he has become more famous that he was before," said Professor Chiranjib Sen of Azim Premji University in Bangalore, India.

One test case could be China, which the Trump Organisation has identified as a "top priority among high-potential emerging markets", according to a 2013 press release.

On the campaign trail, Mr Trump threatened to label China a currency manipulator and impose import tariffs on Chinese imports.

Dr Suisheng Zhao, a China expert at the University of Denver, said if Mr Trump did impose tariffs and more robustly challenged China's interests in the South China Sea, Beijing could tell Chinese businesses to abandon any talks or deals with the Trump Organisation.

Trump-branded property could also present a target for bombings or other kinds of attacks, said Professor Peter Neumann, of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King's College London. "From a terrorist's perspective, it's a very attractive target," he said.

What Mr Trump does not do could also affect his foreign business interests.

Dr Mehmet Ugur, Professor of Economics and Institutions, at the University of Greenwich Business School, said that Mr Trump's businesses could benefit if he takes a softer line on countries accused of human rights violations.

Countries such as Turkey, China and Indonesia would "be more than happy to welcome Trump Organisation," he said.