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Decision 2024

“There’s a difference between the the persona of President Trump and what he actually does. And in my own experience, we’ve had a very reasonable relationship.”

SC Gov. Henry McMaster talks Trump, China at German industry conference


BERLIN — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster spoke about the possibility of a second Trump presidency and U.S.-Chinese tensions while speaking Monday in Germany. He made the remarks as part of a panel discussion held during a German industry conference, where he was pitching the Palmetto State to German companies.

The governor was invited to speak this week at the TDI conference in Berlin, also known as the Day of German Industry.

German companies make up the largest portion of foreign manufacturers with locations in South Carolina — 262 facilities employing 44,000 people or about 2% of the state’s total workforce, the Associated Press reported ahead of the trip.

McMaster made the journey in hopes of strengthening business ties with the country that spurred South Carolina’s manufacturing-driven economic resurgence, starting in the mid-90s with BMW.

He touted the state’s technical college system as a training ground for workers and the South Carolina’s recent designation as a federal Tech Hub, studying batteries, alternative forms of energy and advancements to the power grid at several state universities and colleges.

“I believe it is wonderful to be a German. It is wonderful to be a German in business. And it will be wonderful to be a German doing business in South Carolina,” McMaster said.

McMaster asked about Trump, China

After his formal remarks, McMaster sat on a panel with CEOs of German companies operating in South Carolina: Klaus Rosenfeld, head of auto parts maker Schaeffler that has facilities in Cheraw and Fort Mill; Karen Radstrom of Mercedes-Benz, which makes Sprinter vans in North Charleston; and Tobias Meyer, CEO of the logistics company DHL.

It was there that the moderator drew McMaster into questions about how the potential re-election of Donald Trump and U.S. relations with China could impact global trade.

While the governor could only speak from a state — rather than national — perspective, he has long been a supporter of the former president.

In early 2016 when he was lieutenant governor under Nikki Haley, he was the first statewide-elected official in the country to back Trump’s presidential bid. He also was one of two speakers to formally nominate Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention. McMaster ascended to governor in 2017 when Trump made Haley his first United Nations ambassador, and he’s remained a steadfast supporter ever since.

“The Trump administration … most Americans think the results were very good,” McMaster answered.

The governor went on to say he does not think the former president’s trademark bombastic, and at times combative, style of speech is representative of his actions.

“There’s a difference between the the persona of President Trump and what he actually does. And in my own experience, we’ve had a very reasonable relationship,” McMaster said.

McMaster also spoke on China.

The country is the world’s largest producer of minerals used in batteries, as well as other components, used in electric vehicles. As South Carolina seeks to become a powerhouse in the electric vehicle industry, national efforts to reduce U.S. dependence on Chinese goods is imperative.

“I know in my state, people are very worried about connections with China. China is not viewed with very friendly eyes in South Carolina,” McMaster said.

The moderator asked CEOs on the panel whether they’re concerned the U.S. may eventually bar imports of products containing Chinese parts.

Meyer remarked on companies shifting operations to Southeast Asia in response but went on to say it would be too costly for most to completely eliminate Chinese-made goods from supply chains.

The CEOs also acknowledged U.S.-China tensions would likely continue whether Trump or Biden is re-elected.

For example, while Trump drastically raised tariffs on numerous Chinese goods while in office, Biden has doubled-down and extended those for certain industries. Biden’s hallmark clean energy and electric vehicle legislation also invoked limits on Chinese-made parts and materials used in order for vehicles and batteries to qualify for important tax breaks.

“I think what we fear as companies is maybe that a Trump administration could be more erratic. But I think in both parties, there is a certain level of protectionism that has taken root,” Meyer said.

McMaster made no remark on President Joe Biden but addressed what he sees as public sentiment surrounding Trump.

“There are many of us that are concerned with the situation in the world right now and we would like a change. And I think that’s why you see these huge crowds … that are coming to see President Trump and pulling for his re-election,” McMaster said. “There may be some actions that the rest of the world may not like but I think most Americans will.”

Monday’s industry conference marked only one of five days McMaster spent in Germany.

The trip, which started Sunday and lasted through Thursday, involved visits the headquarters of two major automakers with big stakes in South Carolina — BMW and Volkswagen.

In Munich, McMaster was scheduled to meet with executives of BMW, which employs more than 11,000 workers at its plant in Greer.

The German automaker was the first major manufacturer to open a U.S. location in South Carolina, ushering in a manufacturing boom that lifted the Palmetto State out of economic hardship following the loss of textile mills to overseas operations.

In Wolfsburg, McMaster toured Volkswagen headquarters.

Scout Motors, a VW subsidiary, is building a $2 billion plant near Columbia to make electric SUVs and trucks. Scout will employ up to 4,000 people. The governor also plans to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the country’s finance minister.

In all, McMaster’s trip is costing the state an estimated $22,000.

Taxpayer dollars went to flights, trains and hotels for the governor, Commerce Secretary Harry Lightsey and a staff member, as well as a South Carolina-hosted dinner, according to Commerce Department spokeswoman Kelly Coakley.

That’s substantially less than economic development trips taken by his predecessor, Nikki Haley.

A 10-day trip she led to India following her 2014 re-election win cost $51,500. In 2012, Commerce spent more than $97,000 to send Haley and 10 other state employees to an air show in London and about $37,000 on a trade meeting she attended in Japan. But it was her trip in 2011 that brought the most criticism. Commerce spent $160,000 for her to lead a delegation to the Paris Air Show and tour BMW’s headquarters in Munich, Germany.


Jessica Holdman writes about the economy, workforce and higher education. Before joining the SC Daily Gazette, she was a business reporter for The Post and Courier.

SC Daily Gazette is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.