As the tech industry braced for another round of China tariffs last summer, Tim Cook was making the case directly to the agency involved. On July 8th, the Apple CEO spoke directly with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer as part of a broader effort to make the US’s china tariffs less damaging to Apple, according to emails obtained by The Verge through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Tim and POTUS had a discussion today about this as well which I can fill you in on,” an Apple staffer wrote on July 5th, after sending the specific tariff lines that affected parts of the Mac Pro. “Tim was hoping to speak to the Ambassador sometime this weekend if at all possible to follow up.”
“Whatever can be done on the front end would be hugely impactful”
Emails show that US Trade Representative Lighthizer and Cook spoke directly a few days later. There’s no direct record of the call, but from the surrounding emails, it seems likely they discussed the pending tariff exclusion for various imported parts used in the US assembly of the Mac Pro. The bulk of those parts, which would have been subject to a 25 percent import tax, were ultimately exempted from the tariff. More importantly for Apple, a threatened 15 percent tariff that would have impacted both iPhones and MacBooks was never put in place.
Cook and Lighthizer’s staff remained in contact in the wake of the meeting, with at least one subsequent call taking place at 4:30am on August 5th. Much of the exchange is redacted as sensitive business information, but it is likely that the business impact of the tariffs was discussed, with one Apple staffer telling a USTR employee, “whatever can be done on the front end would be hugely impactful.”
Apple was making a public case against tariffs during this same period, submitting a number of official responses that highlighted the company’s contribution to the US economy. Cook also met extensively with President Trump to make the company’s case on tariffs during that period.
That August, Cook had a private dinner with Trump, in which he argued that tariffs would make Apple less able to compete with foreign rivals. “Tim was talking to me about tariffs,” the president told reporters, “and one of the things, he made a good case, is that Samsung is their number one competitor and Samsung is not paying tariffs because they’re based in South Korea. And it’s tough for Apple to compete with a very good company that’s not.”
The full details of Cook’s meetings with Trump have never been made public, and much of what we know comes from offhand disclosures by Trump himself. Cook has made several public appearances at the White House, but because the Trump White House has halted the publication of visitor records, it’s not known whether Cook visited the White House outside of those appearances. These emails are the first public indication of a call between Cook and President Trump on July 5th; we do not know how many other such calls took place.
Cook has broadly defended his efforts to engage with the White House, including membership in various White House industry councils and a more recent press tour of the third-party factory in Texas that manufactures the Mac Pro. “My perspective is, engagement is always best,” Cook said in an interview with Fox Business in February. “Simply standing on the sidelines yelling doesn’t accomplish anything.”
Apple declined to comment on the efforts. The US trade representative did not respond to a request for comment.