Mack McLarty is no fan of tariffs, but he does commend President Donald Trump for addressing international trade issues that have been concerns for numerous presidential administrations.
“I’m not a tariff man,” said McLarty, a former White House Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton and now chairman of McLarty Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based diplomatic consulting firm. “I take a respectful but strong exception with President Trump. I think it’s a very blunt instrument and has the potential to be a ‘lose-lose’ deal. I do commend the president for addressing some of the trade issues, and I think he is absolutely right to do so. But I think there may be a more productive way to get to the conclusion or outcome or agreement that we need.”
In a recent interview with Northwest Arkansas Business Journal Editor Paul Gatling, McLarty, 72, said he is “guardedly encouraged” about reports of improving progress in trade negotiations between the U.S. and China. He also expressed support of President Trump’s renegotiation last year of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a pact he played a key role in while serving in the White House. The resulting legislation is now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
“Remember, that [NAFTA] agreement was negotiated and signed under a Republican president, George H.W. Bush, but passed and ratified by the Congress under President Clinton,” McLarty said. “But that renegotiation, the new [USMCA] agreement, is a good agreement.”
McLarty, who was inducted into the state’s business hall of fame in 2014, was in Northwest Arkansas recently for the March 15 grand opening of the new McLarty Daniel Ford Lincoln automotive dealership on Walton Boulevard in Bentonville. The 10.6-acre development is owned by RML Automotive Holdings, founded in 2007 by McLarty, the company’s vice chairman, and Black Entertainment Television Founder Bob Johnson.
RML is a $1.8 billion operation that consists of 25 automotive dealerships across the South Central, Southeast and Midwest regions of the country. The company doubled its investment in Northwest Arkansas last year with the purchase of three dealerships from Everett Automotive Group. RML’s six dealerships in Northwest Arkansas now employ about 600 people.
In an interview at the Business Journal’s Springdale studios, McLarty discussed the Bentonville dealership’s grand opening, and his family history in the automobile business, going all the way back to 1921. McLarty is also the chairman of the McLarty Companies, a fourth-generation family business with interests in automotive, hotel real estate, commercial real estate, financial services and other activities.
McLarty, who was the student body president during his time at the University of Arkansas, joked he may be biased being a native Arkansan — and with a sizable investment in the region — but when it comes to doing business, there’s not a better market than Northwest Arkansas.
“We’ve done a lot of business here over the years with these iconic companies in Northwest Arkansas,” he said. “It was a great honor and joy to know and work with Sam and Helen Walton, and with Johnnie and Johnelle Hunt, who is such an exemplary person and a force for good. With Tyson Foods we leased Tyson all of their trucks for many years. Don Tyson was obviously a visionary and [Tyson Foods Chairman] Johnny is carrying on that tradition. And of course the University of Arkansas. This is a unique area in so many ways.”
McLarty discussed a number of topics during the interview, including the McLarty Daniel management team in Northwest Arkansas, factors driving the economy, international trade and its impact on the state and the 2020 presidential election. You can watch the full interview in the video below.