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Ford CEO says Trump-Xi meeting sets stage for stronger U.S., China ties

Ford CEO Mark Fields on U.S., China ties: “We have to tread very carefully … because the economic relationship is the basis of the overall relationship.” Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

SHANGHAI — The meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping this week is encouraging and sets the stage for the world’s two largest economies to strengthen ties, said Ford CEO Officer Mark Fields.

“When you have two leaders meet face to face, they become people to each other,” Fields said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Shanghai on Saturday. “That’s a very firm foundation to then go off and make concrete advances to strengthen the ties between the two countries. I feel that’s very possible.”

Worsening relations between the U.S. and China would be detrimental for companies like Ford, which is looking to sell more pickup trucks in the world’s largest auto market and recently announced it will build its luxury Lincoln vehicles in the Asian nation.

In their public comments, the two presidents remarked generally about “progress” in their relationship and optimism about the future. That could indicate that the relationship between the two countries remains stable, despite Trump’s fiery accusations during his campaign, and afterward, that China has stolen U.S. manufacturing jobs.

On China’s policy of requiring foreign automakers to set up joint ventures in order to manufacture vehicles and tariffs on imported cars, Fields said that tangible reforms and more open markets are needed.

The issue is bigger than the 50 percent limit on foreign ownership of the ventures, he said, and there’s the need to decrease policy uncertainties, boost business confidence and create equal opportunities for each nation at the same time.

Mutual Ties

“There’s huge, enormous mutual ties between the two countries from a trade standpoint,” Fields said before an event to outline Ford’s strategy to boost pickup sales in China. “We have to tread very carefully on that because the economic relationship is the basis of the overall relationship.”

Ford said on Thursday that it wants 70 percent of all Ford nameplates sold in China by 2025 to be part or fully electric. The company will introduce a plug-in hybrid and battery-electric crossover in China, and plans to manufacture electrified powertrains by 2020. The investments in electrification in China are part of efforts to help the automaker meet stricter emission standards, Fields said.

Fields says he sees “huge opportunities” to increase pickup truck sales in China, which has been easing restrictions on pickup usage in city centers. The automaker plans to introduce its best-selling Built Ford Tough truck brand in the country and will announce plans to start selling the Ford Ranger midsize pickup there from 2018.

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