There's a controversy over whether the Trump administration secretly promised Apple that iPhones wouldn't be caught in the crossfire of a trade war with China

  • Apple could be one of the biggest losers in a trade war between the United States and China.

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook was told by the Trump administration that it would not place tariffs on iPhones, according to The New York Times.

  • But a senior White House advisor said he didn't have any knowledge of such an exception.

There are few companies with as much to lose in the looming trade war between the United States and China as Apple.

The world's most valuable public traded company does nearly all of its manufacturing and assembly in China, the culmination of a long and complicated electronics supply chain that stretches around the world and ends with the Chinese-made iPhone you may be reading this story on.

So it's no surprise that the massive tariffs that President Donald Trump has threatened and China's response could cripple the iPhone company, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has been working behind the scenes with both governments to make sure it stays out of the crossfire.

Cook was even told by the Trump administration that it would not place any tariffs on iPhones, according to The New York Times as part of a closer look at how Apple has navigated the impending trade war.

But a senior White House advisor denied knowledge of any iPhone trade exemption in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg. “With respect to Tim Cook and exceptions, I have no knowledge or comment about that,” Peter Navarro reportedly said.

Navarro is one trade official that Cook tries to avoid, according to The New York Times. So it's possible he hasn't been told of an Apple-related trade decision behind closed doors. Cook has had better luck speaking to National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, and commerce secretary Wilbur Ross.

Cook maintains an open line of communication with Trump, and he visited the White House last month. Apple announced earlier this year it plans to spend $350 billion in the United States over the next 5 years, which the Trump administration used as an example of its economic policy working.

"But I felt that tariffs were not the right approach there, and I showed [Trump] some more analytical kinds of things to demonstrate why,” Cook said in an interview with financier David Rubenstein published earlier this month.

There hasn't been a public announcement about Apple being exempt from any tariffs, and China could always decide to place tariffs on materials that are used to make the iPhone or make life difficult for Apple in other ways, such as using bureaucracy to slow down shipments.

Apple and the White House didn't respond to emails. So it remains an open question whether Apple's charm offensive on the White House got the iPhone company special treatment from the Trump administration.

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