Trump launches probe into auto imports and possible tariffs
Nearly half of the vehicles sold in the US are imported.
The Trump administration has launched an investigation into whether tariffs are needed on the imports of vehicles into the United States, moving swiftly as talks over the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) have stalled.
President Donald Trump predicted earlier that US carmakers and auto workers would be “very happy” with the outcome of the Nafta talks.
The White House said in a statement that the president had asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to consider whether the imports of vehicles, including trucks, and automotive parts threaten US national security.
The president said in the statement that “core industries such as automobiles and automotive parts are critical to our strength as a Nation”.
The US remains far apart on the talks over rewriting the trade pact with Canada and Mexico, with the discussions at an impasse over rules for car production.
The initiation of the trade investigation could be seen as an attempt to gain leverage in the talks with the two US neighbours.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said that efforts to renegotiate the trade agreement could spill into next year.
Nearly half of the vehicles sold in the US are imported, with many coming from assembly plants in Mexico and Canada.
During a meeting with auto executives earlier this month, Mr Trump said he would push for an increase in the production of vehicles built at US plants.
A person familiar with the discussions said the president has suggested seeking new tariffs of 20% to 25% on automobile imports.
Mr Trump brought a little-used weapon to his fight to protect auto workers: Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.
The provision authorises the president to restrict imports and impose unlimited tariffs on national security grounds.
Mr Trump offered a hint about the move earlier in the day on the South Lawn, telling reporters that “you’ll be seeing very soon what I’m talking about”.
He noted that both Mexico and Canada have been “very difficult to deal with” during the negotiations.
“I am not happy with their requests. But I will tell you in the end we win, we will win and will win big,” Me Trump said before departing for New York.
He said America’s neighbours have been “very spoiled because nobody’s done this but I will tell you that what they ask for is not fair. Our auto workers are going to be extremely happy”.
Mexico has so far resisted US attempts to get higher regional content rules in the auto industry and move production to higher-wage US and Canadian factories.
The US has also sought to change Nafta’s dispute-resolution system, and include a sunset clause that would allow countries to exit after five years.
The Trump administration has already missed an informal deadline that had been set by House Speaker Paul Ryan to get a revamped deal to Congress in time for politicians to vote on it in a midterm election year.
core industries such as automobiles and automotive parts are critical to our strength as a Nation
Mexico, meanwhile, will hold presidential elections on July 1 and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist candidate who has led in polls, has said the re-negotiation should not be rushed through and should be left to the winner of the election.
If the negotiators fail to agree to a revamped version of Nafta, the discussions could be extended into 2019.
Mr Trump could also carry out his threat to abandon the agreement that he has long railed against, throwing commerce among the three countries into disarray.
Mr Trump has sought to overhaul Nafta in an effort to return auto production to the United States and reduce America’s trade deficit.
The US has been demanding that a percentage of a car’s content of auto parts originate in a country — the US or Canada — with average auto worker wages of about 15 dollars an hour to qualify for Nafta’s duty-free status.
But companies have built supply chains that straddle Nafta borders and changing the rules could disrupt their operations, raise costs and potentially put them at a competitive disadvantage with manufacturers in Asia and Europe.
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