How Tim Cook tried to make the U.S.’s China tariffs less damaging for Apple

Throughout last summer, tech and other industry companies were forced to deal with a variety of tariffs placed against China, with Apple one of the companies caught in the crossfire.

And while we know that Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, made semi-frequent visits to the White House to talk with President Donald Trump and the White House administration, many of the details were unknown at the time. For instance, it wasn’t known at the time that Cook was going out of his way to talk about the China tariffs to those directly involved, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The goal? To make those China tariffs far less damaging to Apple.

All of this has come to light now because The Verge was able to obtain emails via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 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.

A few days later after that initial email, it turns out that Apple’s CEO and U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer spoke directly. The specifics of those conversations is not known because they were on a phone call. However, additional emails reveal that the talks appear to be about tariff exclusions, specifically those from various parts used in the United States assembly of the latest Mac Pro. Apple did earn tariff relief for the Mac Pro — albeit not entirely.

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.

As noted in the report, while this was going on Apple was making a public case against tariffs. The company submitted a variety of different formal responses that aimed to highlight the general contributions Apple has made for the U.S. economy. Apple even made it clear that the planned tariffs would give its primary competitor, Samsung, an edge against it.

We also know that Cook had dinner with Trump back in August, but that was widely known because Trump tweeted it out. The President also confirmed that at least one of the topics of discussion at the dinner was the tariffs. It was at that dinner that Cook made the case about Samsung and competition.

This is the first indication that Tim Cook had a call with President Trump back in July. And it’s certainly possible there were additional calls after that. However, these emails do not reveal that. For what it’s worth, Cook has said. that being more direct with the White House administration, and dealing with them directly, is better than “standing on the sidelines”, which “doesn’t accomplish anything”.

So the fact that Cook seemingly went out of his way to talk to people he needed to talk to help mitigate the potential damage of increasing China tariffs.