Donald Trump Promises ‘Pleasant Surprises’ on Nafta in Session With CEOs

President declined to give specifics about changes to trade pact; he also said he wants to overhaul government’s computers

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump promised “some very pleasant surprises” to come on the North American Free Trade Agreement, in a gathering with U.S. chief executives in which he also said he wants to overhaul the federal government’s computer systems to make them more secure and up-to-date.

[Louise Radnofsky] April 11th, 2017 [The Wall Street Journal]

The president sounded upbeat notes at the gathering at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, but offered few specifics on his plans for Nafta, the trade pact he frequently attacked on the campaign trail. He is expected to seek mainly modest changes to the agreement in coming negotiations with Mexico and Canada.

“It’s been a disaster from the day it was devised and we’ll have some very pleasant surprises for you on that one, I can tell you,” he said.

Mr. Trump also highlighted his hopes to upgrade the federal government’s computers, saying he would work with  Ginni Rometty, the CEO of International Business Machines Corp. , and others on the overhaul.

“We have a computer system in this country that’s 40 years old, so when you hear we’re hacked…we’re like easy targets,” he said.

“We’re working with a very, very wonderful woman from IBM…and others, and others, many others,” he added to laughter, saying that it was like when he had previously praisedLockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 jet fighters but had to point out quickly that he also likedBoeing Co.’s F-18s.

Citing the high cost of maintaining the existing computer system, Mr. Trump said: “I think we can buy a whole new system for less money, what do you say?” When Ms. Rometty appeared to say “sure,” Mr. Trump quipped back: “We’ll give you 10 billion right now.”

IBM declined to comment on the gathering.

Mr. Trump also spoke several times of his efforts to boost job creation, made a passing reference to his tax proposals by saying he would reduce taxes, and said of his environmental policy that “we’re going to be very, very careful on the environment, it’s very important to me” but that cutting regulations in his early weeks in office has already freed up companies to step up production.

Mr. Trump has prioritized regulatory rollbacks, particularly retarding the energy industry, though their immediate impact hasn’t been enough to change long-term trends such as the decline of the coal industry.

He said that in all, he believed he was a quarter of the way through his plans to cut regulations, and would continue to focus on the Dodd-Frank financial rules in particular, “keeping some obviously, but getting rid of many.”

Mr. Trump held an initial meeting of CEOs, many of them picked by Blackstone GroupLP’s Stephen Schwarzman, in February. Others who came then returned Tuesday, including PepsiCo ’s Indra Nooyi, Larry Fink of BlackRock, Toby Cosgrove of the Cleveland Clinic, Mary Barra of General Motors Co.  and IBM’s Ms. Rometty.

Also in attendance were Jim McNerney, who used to head Boeing, and Jack Welch, the retired CEO of General Electric Co.

An alumnus of the House of Representatives, Mr. Mulvaney was unable to cajole the hard-line conservative bloc of which he had once been a member to back GOP leaders’ bill to overturn the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Now, Mr. Mulvaney is working on budget negotiations designed to avert a government shutdown.

Cleveland Clinic’s Mr. Cosgrove characterized the conversation as “totally unscripted, totally capable of bringing original, innovative things to the fore” and said the president was “incredibly engaged.”

“I thought the emphasis was around creating the jobs and stimulating the economy. A tremendous number of interesting, innovative ideas came out of this,” he said.


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