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Woody Johnson, US ambassador to the UK, talks to Sebastian Shehadi about how Donald Trump plans to keep the US an attractive destination for investment.

Q: How important is FDI to President Trump’s economic strategy?

A: FDI is extremely important… because from investment comes jobs, and the president has said ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’. Jobs are what he ran on, jobs are what he believes in, and I agree with that philosophy totally. The best way to create jobs is to invest and to build capacity in the US.

Q: What does ‘America First’ mean in terms of investment?

A: The president laid it out at Davos: it’s ‘America First but not America Only’. Right now is probably the best time to invest. We’re open for business, and it’s truer than any time in my investing career because of what he’s done with taxes [and] regulation. The executive leader knows that the only way to increase our standard of living is through investment and business, [that] is the core message.

Q: Does that come at the detriment of the developing world?

A: No. I think the opposite, really. I think: ‘when America does well, the rest of the world does well’. Remember, America also invests and when it sees opportunities it will invest. So when America is wealthy and prosperous, all ships go up together.

Q: According to fDi Markets database, FDI into the US hit a record high in 2017. On the other hand, FDI out of the US was at its lowest since 2007, in terms of project numbers.  

A: I think investment takes a while to percolate. Mr Trump’s only been in office for just over a year. When investing in a plant or facility, it takes time. I’ve got to hire people and get distribution set up. So it’s going to take a while for that to go, for profits to be generated and opportunities abroad to be recognised. But it’s such a good time to invest in the US.

Q: Why is that?

A: Just with what he’s done with taxes and regulation. I think the overall attitude of pro-business gives a level of confidence in the investment community that propels us to make investments.   

Q: Other than tax, how else is Mr Trump making the US attractive?

A: All the secretaries he’s got, most of them are very successful business people [and] that sends a good message. [They] understand what investors are looking for. We’ve got growth at an all-time high, unemployment at an all-time low. The markets went to 2600 [for the first time], that’s gigantic.

Q: Do you think that Mr Trump’s unconventional politics risk deterring FDI?

A: Do I think it’s an impediment? No. Pay attention to what the president has actually accomplished. Concentrate on what’s really important and how he’s completely transformed the attitude of the country in a record time.

Q: What are some of the challenges?

A: Well, there are trade challenges that he’s working on. We got challenged with what he considers unfair trade practices. Deals that were made in environments 20 and 30 years ago and that don’t reflect the world as it is today. Trade agreements [must also be in] the best interests of the US.  

Q: Following a hard Brexit, will the US help the UK and create, for example, a new trade deal?

A: President Trump doesn’t like multilateral deals so far. I know he’s talked about the bilateral deal with the UK. The UK is going to have to get the best [Brexit] deal it can get on its own. Brexit agreements [need to] leave room for American business. We definitely have a stake in the UK, huge business investments, so we want to make sure it continues to flourish.

Q: Do you worry that US firms like Citi will leave London?

A: I’m pretty optimistic because the UK has a couple of things that can’t really be duplicated elsewhere. One is the language and the other is the rule of law here, which goes back to the Magna Carta. Business likes certainty and what they see here. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in other places, but [US companies] are very familiar with what’s here. [The UK-US relationship] is very special and what it means is very simple: it’s all about trust and confidence.

Q: How do you think the US education system is preparing for automation while Mr Trump puts so much emphasis on bringing back ‘hands-on’, rust-belt jobs?

A: Making automated robots is labour-intensive and the educational system [needs] to adapt. The secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is laser-focusing on this: not just bringing back jobs we can’t fill, but bringing back jobs that we’re going to prepare our young people to fill, and retrain older workers to fill. You can’t [bring] back factory jobs of 1950 to Michigan, [so] those jobs will be different. But whether it’s hi-tech robotics or whatever, you still need people. [The US] was losing its edge in terms of what has always been an American phenomenon: leaving our kids better than we are. I haven’t lost hope, but some people have. We want to turn that totally around.

Q: Does that mean implementing, what could be called protectionist measures, such as the immigration restrictions?

A: I think all that is him using his judgement to best protect the American people and the Constitution. We are a country of immigrants and country of diversity, our major strength comes from our diversity… and President Trump knows that.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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