White House to mull auto tariffs report

Posted on 14 November 2018

Source: Taipei Times

The US Department of Commerce has submitted draft recommendations to the White House on its investigation into whether to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported cars and parts on national security grounds, two administration officials said.

The “Section 232” recommendations on ensuring a healthy US auto industry are undergoing an interagency review process and was scheduled be discussed yesterday at a regularly scheduled weekly meeting of administration’s top trade officials, the officials said.

The White House has pledged not to move forward with imposing tariffs on the EU or Japan as long as it is making constructive progress in trade talks.

EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom is due to meet today with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington for more preliminary talks to launch trade negotiations.

One of the officials, who was briefed on the matter, said the administration was sending a message that it is growing frustrated with the lack of progress on auto issues, but did not expect immediate action on the recommendations.

The substance of the recommendations, such as which vehicles or parts could be subject to tariffs, and possible tariff rates, were not immediately known.

However, having the Commerce report ready for action would underscore a consistent threat from US President Donald Trump — that he would impose tariffs on autos and auto parts unless the EU and Japan make trade concessions including lowering the EU’s 10 percent tariff on imported vehicles and cutting non-tariff barriers.

Trump has repeatedly suggested he would move quickly to impose tariffs, even before the department launched its investigation in May into whether imported autos and parts pose a national security risk.

The study followed closely on the heels of the imposition of similar national security tariffs on steel and aluminum.

“We said if we don’t negotiate something fair, then we have tremendous retribution, which we don’t want to use, but we have tremendous powers,” Trump said on Wednesday last week. “We have to — including cars. Cars is the big one. And you know what we’re talking about with respect to cars and tariffs on cars.”

Last month, Trump’s administration said it would open formal trade talks with the EU and Japan early next year after the 90-day required congressional notification period ends.

The prospect of tariffs of 25 percent on imported autos and parts has sent shockwaves through the auto industry, with US and foreign-brand producers lobbying against it.

A group representing major automakers told the Commerce Department in July that imposing tariffs of 25 percent on imported cars and parts would raise the cumulative prices for US vehicles by US$83 billion annually and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Automakers argue there is no evidence that auto imports pose a national security risk, and the tariffs could actually harm US economic security.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include General Motors Co, Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp, said the price of an imported car would increase nearly US$6,000, while the price of a US-built car would increase by US$2,000.

A study released by a US auto dealer group said the tariffs could cut US auto sales by 2 million vehicles annually and cost more than 117,000 auto dealer jobs, or about 10 percent of the workforce. 

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