But the president didn’t address retail executives' concerns about changes to the border tax.

(Bloomberg)—President Donald Trump told executives at major retail chains that he would swiftly submit a tax overhaul plan to stimulate the economy.

Trump called rewriting the tax code “one of the best opportunities to really impact our economy” during a White House breakfast Wednesday with chief executive officers of companies such as Target Corp., No. 22 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, J.C. Penney Co. (No. 33) and Gap Inc. (No. 20), who came to Washington to discuss their opposition to a House Republican plan to tax U.S. businesses’ domestic income and their imports while exempting their exports.

The president said he would be releasing a proposal in the “not-so-distant future.”

The retailers have argued that the border-adjusted levy will raise prices for U.S. consumers. The CEOs planned to meet with members of Congress later Wednesday to deliver the same message.

Trump didn’t address concerns about border tax adjustments during a brief photo session at the start of the meeting. Instead, he praised the CEOs as “great retailers” that “I’ve read about on the covers of business magazines.”


He said the retail industry is “very important to the country” and supports “millions and millions of jobs.”

Retail struggles

“We had a positive and productive conversation with President Trump about the important role the retail industry plays in our national economy,” the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which is overseeing the effort to derail the proposal, said in a statement. “We stressed the importance of taking a thoughtful approach to tax reform for both individuals and corporations.”

Trump had initially called the border tax “too complicated,” before aides have more recently said he was warming to it. It’s still unclear whether he will endorse a border levy in his tax plan.


The proposed overhaul of the corporate tax code would reward companies that sell products outside the U.S. while punishing ones that rely on low-cost overseas suppliers—though its supporters say the tax would also lead to a stronger dollar, evening out those effects. The tax would be assessed at a 20% rate on imported goods sold domestically and would replace the current 35% corporate income tax.

Domestic manufacturing

The issue has pitted corporate giants against one another, with retailers and other net importers on one side and exporters on the other. For companies on both sides there are billions of dollars at stake. Supporters say the 20% border-adjusted tax would encourage domestic production. But opponents complain that it would just force companies to pass the increases to consumers—potentially boosting prices for everything from food and clothing to gasoline and auto parts—without spurring a revival of domestic manufacturing.

The potential changes come at a time when apparel chains and other brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling: About 5,000 stores have been shuttered in the past 18 months, according to Clarion Partners. Department stores such as Sears Holdings Corp. (No. 14) and Macy’s Inc. (No. 6) have been particularly hard-hit by consumers shifting their spending online.


The retail executives meeting with Trump included Brian Cornell, chairman and CEO of Target; Marvin Ellison, chairman and CEO of J.C. Penney; Hubert Joly, chairman and CEO of Best Buy Co. (No. 12); and Art Peck, CEO of Gap.

Other retail executives at the White House session included Bill Rhodes, chairman and CEO of AutoZone Inc. (No. 103); Stefano Pessina, CEO of Walgreen Boots Alliance Inc. (No. 37); Greg Sandfort, CEO of Tractor Supply Co. (No. 313); and Jill Soltau, president and CEO of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores.

“The group had a positive and substantive discussion about policies that would promote economic growth and job creation,” a Target spokeswoman said in an email. “Target looks forward to continuing the dialogue with the administration and congressional members on this issue.”