Trump sends high-level team to push exports at Farnborough Airshow: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House is sending a high-level delegation to this month’s Farnborough Airshow to push the Trump administration’s “Buy American” drive aimed at boosting exports of weapons and aircraft, industry sources familiar with the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the press aboard Air Force One en route to Bedminster, New Jersey, from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The official U.S. delegation will be the highest ranking to attend the air show near London in recent memory and will be led by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, one of the main architects of the new arms export policy.

The White House’s “Buy American” initiative, first reported by Reuters in April, aims to speed up arms deal approvals and increase the advocacy role of senior U.S. officials, including President Donald Trump, in closing foreign sales, while giving greater weight to business interests in sales decisions that have long prioritized human rights.

The policy, officially named the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, also loosens U.S. export rules on equipment ranging from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery.

The “whole of government” approach, from Trump and his cabinet down to military attaches and diplomats, is meant to help drum up billions of dollars more in arms business. Trump himself has pushed weapons sales with foreign heads of state.

While Trump will be in Britain the weekend before the July 16 to July 22 Farnborough show - the largest commercial and military aerospace trade fair of the year - his current schedule does not show him attending.

The State Department’s Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson will attend, a U.S. Department of State official said.

In fiscal year 2017 the department authorized, licensed and provided oversight for $42 billion in government-to-government sales and $112 billion in direct commercial sales, the official said. There were more than $43.4 billion in sales to other governments in the first seven months of 2018, the official said.

The rest of the U.S. delegation will include officials from the Commerce Department, the Air Force and the Pentagon’s weapons export administration, industry executives said.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the delegation.

It will not be the first time that the Trump administration has stepped up its profile at an air show. In February, the United States sent its diplomat responsible for foreign military sales to the Singapore Airshow to promote U.S.-made weapons.

Companies that stand to benefit most from the new policy include Boeing Co BA.N and the other top U.S. defense contractors, Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N, Raytheon Co RTN.N, General Dynamics Corp GD.N and Northrop Grumman Corp NOC.N.

Among the most important contracts up for grabs in the coming years are European nations seeking a new generation of fighter jet. Belgium has already been pre-approved by the U.S. government to buy 34 F-35s made by Lockheed in a sale worth more than $6 billion, but has yet to decide.

Reporting by Mike Stone; editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool