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.


Pompeo says China is engaging in ‘predatory economics 101’

Would China have allowed America to do to it what China has done to America asked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP)
Updated 18 June 2018
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Pompeo says China is engaging in ‘predatory economics 101’

  • He said China’s recent claims of “openness and globalization” are “a joke.”

DETROIT: China is engaging in “predatory economics 101” and an “unprecedented level of larceny” of intellectual property, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a business audience Monday.
Pompeo made the remarks at the Detroit Economic Club as global markets reacted to trade tensions between the US and China. Both nations started putting trade tariffs in motion that are set to take effect July 6.
He said China’s recent claims of “openness and globalization” are “a joke.” He added that China is a “predatory economic government” that is “long overdue in being tackled,” matters that include IP theft and Chinese steel and aluminum flooding the US market.
“Everyone knows ... China is the main perpetrator,” he said. “It’s an unprecedented level of larceny.”
“Just ask yourself: Would China have allowed America to do to it what China has done to America?” he said later. “This is predatory economics 101.”
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pompeo raised the trade issue directly with China last week, when he met in Beijing with President Xi Jinping and others.
“I reminded him that’s not fair competition,” Pompeo said.
President Donald Trump has announced a 25 percent tariff on up to $50 billion in Chinese imports. China is retaliating by raising import duties on $34 billion worth of American goods, including soybeans, electric cars and whiskey. Trump also has slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and European allies.
Wall Street has viewed the escalating trade tensions with wariness, fearful they could strangle the economic growth achieved during Trump’s watch. Gary Cohn, Trump’s former top economic adviser, said last week that a “tariff battle” could result in price inflation and consumer debt — “historic ingredients for an economic slowdown.”
Pompeo on Monday described US actions as “economic diplomacy,” which, when done right, strengthens national security and international alliances, he added.
“We use American power, economic might and influence as a tool of economic policy,” he said. “We do our best to call out unfair economic behaviors as well.”