German carmakers dismayed as US weighs auto tariffs

VW Golfs are loaded in a delivery tower at the plant of German carmaker Volkswagen in Germany. (Reuters)
Updated 24 May 2018
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German carmakers dismayed as US weighs auto tariffs

  • US Commerce Department mulls tariffs on car imports
  • “One-sided protectionism has never helped anyone in the long term," says Volkswagen

FRANKFURT: German automakers reacted with dismay Thursday as the US Commerce Department said tariffs on car imports could be on the horizon, potentially opening a new front in a burgeoning transatlantic trade conflict.
“One-sided protectionism has never helped anyone in the long term. Only free and fair trade secures increased prosperity,” a spokesman for industry behemoth Volkswagen told AFP.
American Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had announced Wednesday he had 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 President Donald Trump on the matter.
Ross promised “a thorough, fair, and transparent investigation into whether (auto) imports are weakening our internal economy and may impair the national security.”
The move comes as a June 1 deadline approaches for the White House to decide whether imports from the EU will remain exempt from border taxes slapped on steel and aluminum.
Trump’s recourse to national security arguments for potential tariffs echoes his justification for the metals duties.
In a separate statement released by the White House, the president said “core industries such as automobiles and automotive parts are critical to our strength as a nation.”
Germany’s Federation of the Automotive Industry (VDA) noted that German carmakers employ some 36,500 people in the US and car parts producers 80,000 more.
And it highlighted German firms’ “significant contribution to the American balance of trade in cars” with their exports to third countries.
“An increase in tariff barriers should be avoided,” the body said, saying it had “always spoken out in favor of mutual reductions in tariffs and for free-trade agreements.”
German carmakers exported 494,000 vehicles to the US last year, the VDA said, while the Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) calculated autos and parts accounted for €28.6 billion ($33.6 billion) of Germany’s €111.5 billion in exports to the US.
Shares in Volkswagen, high-end BMW and Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler were among the worst performers in the DAX index of blue-chip German shares just before midday (1100 GMT) Thursday.
Imposing car tariffs would open yet another front in the Republican president’s confrontational rows over trade that have drawn global outcry from allies and partners.
“Evidence of significant economic damage due to the trade conflict is mounting,” tweeted economist Marcel Fratzscher of the DIW think-tank in Berlin.
“The Trump administration now adding new threats with tariffs on European cars could make things a lot worse.”
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.
Trump had earlier blamed the US neighbors to the north and south for being “difficult” in talks to renegotiate the pact.
The contrast with a Thursday visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Chinese premier Li Qeqiang could not have been starker.
“China and Germany are on the path of promoting multilateralism and bolstering free trade,” Merkel said in Beijing.
Meanwhile Japan’s trade minister Hiroshige Seko said Thursday that car tariffs 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 United States and Tokyo has already threatened Washington with retaliation at the World Trade Organization for the steel tariffs.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Wednesday that Trump was asking for vehicle import tariffs as high as 25 percent.
That would move US policy in the opposite direction from China, where President Xi Jinping recently offered to cut border taxes to 15 percent from 25 percent.
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.
“After many decades of losing your jobs to other countries, you have waited long enough!” Trump wrote in a tweet addressed to “our great American autoworkers.”
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.


UK’s Quercus pulls plug on $570 mln Iran solar plant as sanctions bite

Updated 5 min 46 sec ago
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UK’s Quercus pulls plug on $570 mln Iran solar plant as sanctions bite

  • Quercus said it will halt the construction of a 500 million euro ($570 million) solar power plant in Iran
  • Iran has been trying to increase the share of renewable-produced electricity in its energy mix

OSLO: A British renewable energy investor Quercus said it will halt the construction of a 500 million euro ($570 million) solar power plant in Iran due to recently imposed US sanctions on Tehran.
The solar plant in Iran would have been the first renewable energy investment outside Europe by Quercus and the world’s sixth largest, with a 600 megawatt (MW) capacity.
Iran has been trying to increase the share of renewable-produced electricity in its energy mix, partly due to air pollution and to meet international commitments, hoping to have about 5 gigawatt in renewables installed by 2022.
In June, before the US-imposed sanctions, more than 250 companies had signed agreements to add and sell power from about 4 gigawatt of new renewables in the country, which has only 602 MW installed, Iranian energy ministry data showed.
Washington reimposed sanctions last week after pulling out of a 2015 international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions.
US president Donald Trump has also threatened to penalize companies that continue to operate in Iran, which led banks and many companies around the world to scale back their dealings with Tehran.
“Following the US sanctions on Iran, we have decided to cease all activities in the country, including our 600 MW project. We will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Quercus chief executive Diego Biasi said in an email on Tuesday.
The firm will continue to monitor the situation closely, said Biasi, who declined to comment further.
Last year Quercus said it would set up a project company and sell shares via a private placement after attracting interest from private and institutional investors, including sovereign wealth funds.
Construction was expected to take three years, with each 100 MW standalone lot becoming operational and connecting to the grid every six months.

SANCTIONS BITE
Independently-owned Quercus has a portfolio of around 28 renewable energy plants and 235 MW of installed capacity.
The firm, founded by Biasi and Simone Borla in 2010, controls five investment funds and has a network of “highly regarded external partners,” it says on its website.
The 600 MW plant it aimed to construct in Iran would be the firm’s largest investment. Quercus declined to comment on the details of its decision to cease the plan and on any financial losses that could result from it.
Fearing the consequences of the US embargo, a string of European companies have recently announced they would scale back their business in Iran.
On Tuesday, German engineering group Bilfinger, said it did not plan to sign any new business in the country, while automotive supplier Duerr on Aug. 11 said it had halted activities in Iran.
Another project, planned by Norway’s Saga Energy, which said last October it aimed to build 2 GW of new solar energy capacity in Iran and to start construction by the end of 2018, has also stalled.
Saga Energy’s chief of operations Rune Haaland told Reuters it was still working on getting the funding, which is more complicated since recent developments, and although it aimed to push on with its plans, construction could be delayed. ($1 = 0.8773 euros)