The discussion covered “tax reform, regulatory reform, the economy and other issues,” the NRF said. It did not mention any discussion of recent tariffs Trump levied against an array of imports from China — that only peripherally touch the apparel industry — and his threat to add even more after China hit back with its own tariffs, although it seems unlikely this topic went ignored.
“Today’s meeting shows that President Trump appreciates and understands the important role retail plays in the nation’s economy and wants to help our businesses continue to grow,” NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay said.
Christopher Baldwin, NRF’s chairman and the president and ceo of BJ’s Wholesale Club, added his praise of recent tax reform that pushed the corporate tax rate to its lowest rate in history, a move that’s estimated to add an estimated $1 trillion to America’s federal deficit. Last year’s deficit stood at $665 billion, and in the current fiscal year it is expected to grow to $804 billion, according to new government estimates.
“The continuing year-over-year increases in retail sales seen over the past several months are clear evidence of economic policy that is working,” Baldwin said. Tax reform took effect at the start of January.
As for what other executives attended the White House meeting, the NRF said only that they included members of its executive committee. That committee includes Karen Katz, the now former ceo of Neiman Marcus who remains on the retailer’s board; Jeff Gennette, chairman and ceo of Macy’s Inc.; Mike George, president and ceo of QVC Inc.; Marc Metrick, president of Saks Fifth Avenue; Steve Sadove, principal of Steve Sadove and Associates, and Claudio Del Vecchio, chairman and ceo of Brooks Brothers. None of the executives could be immediately reached for comment.
An NRF spokeswoman declined to specify who was at the meeting, citing its off-the-record nature, but said the association was “grateful to have a few minutes of the President’s time.”
“It was a positive and constructive conversation,” she added.
A White House representative could not be reached for comment.
Retail and fashion groups like the NRF, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the American Apparel & Footwear Association have been outspoken in their dislike of tariffs after unilaterally applauding tax reform and Trump’s efforts at deregulation.
The groups are broadly attempting to position tariffs as a new tax on American shoppers, citing an expected increase in the cost of everyday consumer goods.
The meeting also comes at a time when Trump has been actively denouncing Amazon, the biggest force in online retail and one that has been aggressively gaining market share while making forays into all corners of retail, from pharmacy to apparel.
While Trump takes issue with Amazon over its alleged practice of not collecting sales tax, which it does in every U.S. state that requires online sellers to do so, and has accused it of taking advantage of the U.S. post office for its deliveries, it seems his core gripe could be with Amazon’s founder and ceo Jeff Bezos. Bezos also owns the Washington Post, one of Trump’s favorite “fake news” targets.
During an April 5 press conference, Trump claimed Amazon operates “a tremendous lobbying effort, in addition to having the Washington Post, which is, as far as I’m concerned, another lobbyist.”
A few days before that remark, Trump claimed on Twitter that the post office loses a “fortune” delivering Amazon orders, while “our fully tax-paying retailers are closing stores all over the country…not a level playing field!” At the end of March, he also blamed Amazon for “putting many thousands of retailers out of business.”
But Trump hasn’t always been the biggest fan of retailers generally, stretching back to his campaign days when he battled with Macy’s over comments he made about Hispanics. At the start of his presidency last year, he attacked Nordstrom over its decision to drop his daughter Ivanka’s line of jewelry from its stores, saying the retailer was treating her “so unfairly.”
His then-press secretary Sean Spicer defending Trump’s Twitter tirade, saying Nordstrom was “targeting” Ivanka and that it was part of an effort “to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies he’s taken.”
Ivanka’s brand, which she no longer runs but still profits from, has created other issues for the White House as well. Television comments by Trump’s special counsel Kellyanne Conway landed her in an ethics investigation, and in January, The Democracy Forward Foundation, a nonprofit focused on legal and policy issues in the executive branch, filed for another investigation, claiming Ivanka is using her White House profile to promote her brand. In December, Ivanka opened what’s now her only retail operation at the floor of her father’s Trump Tower in New York. Her last retail store closed in 2015.
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