Trump administration weighs slapping tariffs on auto imports

Passenger cars make up around 30 percent of Japan’s total exports to the US. (AFP)
Updated 24 May 2018
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Trump administration weighs slapping tariffs on auto imports

WASHINGTON: The US Commerce Department said Wednesday it launched an inquiry that could allow the Trump administration to impose tariffs on auto imports over national security concerns.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced he initiated a so-called Section 232 investigation on auto trade — which would provide the legal basis to impose tariffs, if his department finds imports threaten US national security — after speaking with Donald Trump on the matter.
“There is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry,” Ross said.
“The Department of Commerce will conduct a thorough, fair, and transparent investigation into whether such imports are weakening our internal economy and may impair the national security.”
In a separate statement released by the White House, Trump said he had “instructed” Ross to “consider” kicking off the probe.
“Core industries such as automobiles and automotive parts are critical to our strength as a nation,” Trump’s statement said.
The Trump administration had used the same justification to slap steep tariffs on steel and aluminum, raising the specter of a trade war.
A similar move in the auto industry would open yet another front in the Republican president’s confrontational rows over trade that have drawn global outcry from allies and partners.
The latest announcement comes as negotiations with Canada and Mexico over revamping the continent-wide North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have stalled over auto demands.
Earlier Thursday, Trump had blamed the US neighbors to the north and south for being “difficult” in talks to renegotiate the pact.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Wednesday that Trump was asking for vehicle import tariffs as high as 25 percent.
Trump has frequently lambasted China’s high import duties on foreign cars.
During recent negotiations, President Xi Jinping offered to cut the rate to 15 percent from 25 percent.
The Journal, citing sources in the auto industry, said US moves to retaliate likely would face significant opposition from trading partners and auto dealers that sell imports.
Japan was quick to lash out, with its trade minister Hiroshige Seko saying on Thursday that such a move would “plunge the world market into confusion” and be “extremely regrettable.”
Passenger cars make up around 30 percent of Japan’s total exports to the US and Tokyo has already threatened Washington with retaliation at the World Trade Organization for the steel tariffs.
In its statement announcing the inquiry, the Commerce Department cited figures showing that US employment in automobile manufacturing had dropped by 22 percent from 1990 to 2017.
Trump appeared to tease Wednesday’s announcement with earlier tweets, saying: “There will be big news coming soon for our great American autoworkers.”
“After many decades of losing your jobs to other countries, you have waited long enough!”
In another missive referring to trade talks with China, he said that, while the discussions were proceeding nicely, “in the end we will probably have to use a different structure.”
Trump — whose protectionist platform helped launch him to the White House — has repeatedly floated the notion of steep tariffs that would shield the US auto industry.
He has specifically targeted Germany, and argued that American cars are slapped with higher tariffs than those imposed on European autos.
US cars sold in the EU are hit with 10 percent duties, while the US imposes just 2.5 percent on cars from the EU.
But Washington imposes 25 percent tariffs on European pick-ups and trucks — which the EU taxes at a much lower 14 percent on average.


‘Fuel of the future’ comes of age as Aramco opens first hydrogen filling station

Updated 17 June 2019
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‘Fuel of the future’ comes of age as Aramco opens first hydrogen filling station

  • Fatih Birol’s comments were a deliberate poke at those experts who think that the sheer logistics of hydrogen make it always an unlikely solution to global energy challenges
  • Birol’s article was followed by a report from the IEA that put some meat on the bones of the argument that hydrogen is key to solving problems such as global warming

DUBAI: Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, cracked a joke in the Financial Times a couple of weeks ago.
“Hydrogen is the fuel of the future, and it always will be,” he wrote about the fuel that many experts agree could hold the key to the world’s energy problems.
It was a deliberate poke at those experts who think that the sheer logistics of hydrogen — generation, storage, and transportation — make it always an unlikely solution to global energy challenges.
Birol’s article was followed by a report from the IEA that put some meat on the bones of the argument that hydrogen is key to solving such problems as global warming and environmental degradation.
“The world has an important opportunity to tap into hydrogen’s vast potential to become a critical part of a more sustainable and secure energy future … The world should not miss this unique chance to make hydrogen an important part of our clean and secure energy future,” the report said.
That argument will get a critical boost today, when Saudi Aramco, the biggest oil company in the world, opens its first hydrogen fueling station in Dhahran Techno Valley, in the heart of the Kingdom’s oil producing region.
Aramco has partnered with Air Products, a US company that has been a pioneer in the use of industrial gases, to produce a filling station for hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

 

It is very much a test. “The collected data during this pilot phase of the project will provide valuable information for the assessment of future applications of this emerging transport technology in the local environment,” Aramco said when the project was first announced.
But it is something Aramco has been investigating for a long time. Ahmed Al-Khowaiter, Aramco’s chef technology officer, said: “The use of hydrogen derived from oil or gas to power fuel cell electric vehicles represents an exciting opportunity to expand the use of oil in clean transport.”
Hydrogen — essentially what is left when you take the oxygen out of water — has been recognized as a potential fuel source for many decades. Motor manufacturers developed a hydrogen motor engine 50 years ago, but the ease and accessibility of hydrocarbon fuels — oil, gas and coal — made it uneconomic to develop this technology beyond the prototype stage.
Now, as the debate over the role of hydrocarbons in the global environmental balance has become ever more intense, some experts, including Birol and other influential parts of the thought-leadership establishment, believe hydrogen is the next Big Thing in global energy trends.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) said recently that “green” hydrogen offers a solution to the world energy challenge, and that is the problem the theoreticians are struggling with: Hydrogen is released naturally in the process of burning hydrocarbons, but it is self-defeating, in an environmental sense. if you have to burn oil, gas or coal to produce it.
On the other hand, renewable sources, like sun, wind and water, do not produce enough hydrogen to be practically or commercially viable, and not at the right times, when people actually need it.
But, as the WEF noted recently “low-cost green hydrogen is coming”, as technology advances mean the cost of renewable energy falls dramatically each year. The Middle East already has a very big and very cost-efficient program for solar energy generation.
The other challenges lay in how to store and transport hydrogen. It can be loaded onto a tanker like LNG, or pushed through pipelines, but it would require a huge investment to change current logistics systems — essentially designed for oil and LNG — to handle hydrogen.
Many countries, including Saudi Arabia, already have the infrastructure associated with oil and gas refining and petrochemicals production to be able to equip “hydrogen hubs,” as long as there is government will and commercial incentive to do so.
For the Kingdom, it looks like a no-brainer for the future. As Birol said: “So, hydrogen offers tantalising promises of cleaner industry and emissions-free power. Turning it into energy produces only water, not greenhouse gases. It’s also the most abundant element in the universe. What’s not to like?”

FACTOID

Technological advances mean low-cost ‘green’ hydrogen offers a solution to the world energy challenge, according to the World Economic Forum.