A small group of executives from some of the largest U.S. companies met privately with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit to discuss trade, protecting intellectual property rights and challenges facing the world's two largest economies.
The meeting late Thursday included heads of 14 companies, including Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO William Weldon, Eli Lily and Co. Chairman, President and CEO John Lechleiter, Walmart Asia President and CEO Scott Price and Dow Chemical Co. Asia Pacific President Pat Dawson.
The group raised various issues with Hu, who was in Hawaii to attend the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
"Certainly the economic giants, China and the United States, will be competing with each other for many, many years to come. We need to find a way to do that within the parameters of the international trading schemes," said Doug Oberhelman, chairman and CEO of Caterpillar, who participated. "And if we do that, the pie will get bigger and I think and that was one of his key messages."
Topics raised at the meeting ranged from Europe's debt problems to the importance of job creation by the two countries and protecting U.S. intellectual property rights, said Thomas Donohue, who moderated the discussion.
"It was a general exchange. I think it went very well," said Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "President Hu made some comments and they were pretty much upbeat. It was the kind of meeting you would hope for."
The meeting comes as Congress has pressed Obama administration reduce China's $273 billion trade surplus last year, its theft of intellectual property, its subsidies for Chinese industries and its undervalued currency that helps keep Chinese exports cheaper and U.S. exports to China more expensive.
The United States last year sold $92 billion worth of goods and services to China, making it the U.S.'s third biggest export market. However, China has struggled to deal with a culture of a rampant piracy and the widespread production of bogus goods. Trade groups say illegal Chinese copying of music, designer clothing and other goods costs legitimate producers billions every year in lost potential sales.
Oberhelman said Hu spoke at length about the economic challenges facing each country,
"I was so impressed with President Hu," Oberhelman said. "He has a grasp of the issues in both countries, which I think is important ... In the end, we both have to find a way to compete with each other and grow the world economic pie. He gave a very eloquent discussion of that and quite detailed. I think we all felt pretty good about it."
CAT, the world's largest maker of mining and construction equipment, has invested in China for decades and is aggressively expanding as the Asian nation's economy grows rapidly. The company has nearly 10,000 employees in China as well as 16 manufacturing facilities with nine more under construction.
"We got great optimism about the future of China, so our investment plans in China are to continue to grow in line with the GDP growth and the needs and expectations of our customers," Rich Lavin, group president of the Peoria, Illinois-based CAT.
Hu is scheduled to speak at the APEC CEO Summit on Saturday, along with U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Online: APEC CEO Summit: http://apec2011ceosummit.com/
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