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Trump steps up protectionist rhetoric at Boeing factory visit

US President Donald Trump on Saturday held a rally at a Boeing factory that just voted against unionising, marking the unveiling of the company's latest "Dreamliner" aircraft. Even as the aerospace giant hopes the new president will not follow through on his protectionist rhetoric, Trump doubled down on his "made in America" manufacturing policy.

At the rally in South Carolina, he also repeated his promise to prevent firms from offshoring jobs and go after countries that are "cheating" in trade relations. "This is our mantra, buy American and hire American," Trump told the cheering crowd. "We want products made in America, made by American hands."

He said, "It has to be much easier to manufacture in our country and much harder to leave. I don't want companies leaving our country…. We're not letting that happen anymore, folks. Believe me, there will be a very substantial penalty to be paid when they fire their people and move to another country," he said.

He also repeated his pledge to cut corporate taxes and "massively reduce job crushing regulations." Trump said he will create a level field for American workers in trade relations. "We are going to enforce, very strongly, enforce our trade rules and stop foreign cheating. Tremendous cheating. Tremendous cheating."

The plant showcased the first of the latest update of the Boeing-787 "Dreamliner" planes to come off the production line. The larger version of the aircraft that has been on the market since 2011, it can carry 330 passengers and fly up to 6,430 nautical miles.

Boeing already has delivered more than 500 Dreamliner planes and received 149 orders for the 787-10. On Tuesday, an overwhelming 74 per cent of 2,828 Boeing South Carolina employees who cast votes rejected the overtures by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to unionise the plant that produces the 787. Boeing employs 7,500 overall in the southern state.

The US South has historically been hostile to unionisation, a factor in the decision by automobile makers from Europe and Japan to build plants in the region. Boeing's investment in South Carolina was cemented with the USD 1 billion purchase in 2009 of Vought Aircraft Industries, which had been a supplier to Boeing on the 787 program.

Trump's visit could give Boeing a chance to score points with the new president. Shortly after the election, Trump publicly blasted Boeing over the high costs of the new version of the 747 that serves as the Air Force One presidential plane. "Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!" Trump had said on Twitter on December 6.
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