President-elect Donald Trump says he told Tim Cook in a phone call recently that he intends to get Apple to build its products in the US.
“I said, ‘Tim, you know one of the things that will be a real achievement for me is when I get Apple to build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants in the United States, where instead of going to China, and going to Vietnam, and going to the places that you go to, you’re making your product right here,’” Trump recounted during a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times yesterday.
Apple did not respond to multiple requests for comment or confirmation that the call took place.
Convincing Apple to move its manufacturing Stateside won’t be easy. Manufacturing jobs have been disappearing by the millions for a decade and a half, and the potential to get Apple to build products in the US appears to have gone out with them. Back in 2011, Steve Jobs is reported to have told President Obama that “those jobs aren’t coming back,” and that remains the common refrain today.
It’s not only China’s cheap labor that Apple goes abroad for. It also has a deep reliance on the efficiencies granted by having many components of its supply chain in roughly the same place. Re-creating that in the US would be no easy — or cheap — task.
Trump has been critical of Apple’s use of Chinese manufacturing for years, and it became a talking point of his while on the campaign trail. In January, he said that “we're gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries.” He made similar comments in March, also calling out iPhone production.
Of course, Trump can’t simply mandate that this happens, and no number of phone calls with Tim Cook is going to change that until US laws make domestic manufacturing far more appealing.
Trump’s plan, as he tells the Times, is “a very large tax cut for corporations” as well as the removal of regulations “that anybody would agree are ridiculous.” (If American factories then decide to replace their workers with robots, he says, “We’ll make the robots, too.”) Trump has also thrown around the possibility of placing large taxes on goods imported from China.
At this point, Trump mostly seems to be dropping Cook’s name to give some appearance of progress, much as he did when erroneously taking credit for saving a Ford factory last week. He also mentioned having a “great call” with Bill Gates this week. Of course, Trump and his Republican Congress haven’t taken office yet, so not much progress can be made on his agenda for another couple months.
Apple has made some recent attempts at US manufacturing, though with varying degrees of success. It began assembling the Mac Pro, and making some of its parts, in the US back in 2013; but that’s a niche product, and Apple hasn’t updated the computer in over three years, decreasing its appeal even further. Apple also tried to establish a pair of sapphire crystal plants in the US, but the manufacturer it partnered with went under when it turned out that the production process didn’t really work.