Trump's auto tariff probe 'obscenity and hostility,' candidate charges

Trump administration launches vehicle import probe

The Trump administration has launched a national security investigation into auto and truck imports that could lead to new us tariffs similar to those imposed on imported steel and aluminum in March.

Washington said on Wednesday it had launched an investigation into whether vehicle and truck imports are a national security issue due to signs they had damaged the US auto industry.

The proposal may see opposition from foreign trading partners to domestic auto dealers of imported vehicles, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier.

However, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has announced an inquiry into auto imports under a Kennedy-era trade expansion act that protects national security.

"Import duties on cars would be a nightmare for the German auto industry and would lead to a massive sales impact", said Thomas Altmann at Frankfurt-based asset manager QC Partners.

The aim of the probe, it said, is to determine whether imports of automobiles to the United States are damaging the economy and pose a threat to the country's national security.

Canada and Mexico are the top two vehicle suppliers to the United States, so any tariffs would hurt them the most. The initiation of the trade investigation could be seen as an attempt to gain leverage in the talks with the two US neighbours.

The threat to impose an import tax on cars was seen as an attempt to press Mexican officials to accept a USA demand for a higher percentage of auto content to be made in American factories.

"I think your autoworkers and your auto companies in this country are going to be very happy with what's going to happen", Trump said, adding, "You'll be seeing very soon what I'm talking about".

The fact that the USA ran a $69 billion trade deficit with Mexico past year doesn't validate a demand for dramatic renegotiation of trade terms. Canada has been very hard to deal with ... but I will tell you that in the end we win. At the same time, the United States exported almost 2 million vehicles worldwide worth $US57 billion.

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The biggest exporters of new passenger vehicles and light trucks to the United States past year were Mexico, Canada, Japan, Germany and South Korea, according to usa government figures.

The target of this latest threat is not really even foreign auto companies, but Instead Mexico and Canada, which have thus far resisted Trump's demands for new NAFTA content rules which administration officials believe will shift more auto production to the U.S.

On Wednesday morning, Trump indicated some action is coming on autos, although it was unclear whether he was referring to ongoing talks with China, NAFTA negotiations with Canada and Mexico or something else.

German automakers reacted with dismay Thursday as the US Commerce Department said tariffs on vehicle imports could be on the horizon, potentially opening a new front in a burgeoning transatlantic trade conflict.

China, which is in the midst of delicate talks with the United States to avoid a trade war, said Thursday that it's "opposed to the abuse" of national security rules. "Economic security is military security", he said.

"The BMW Group is committed to free trade worldwide".

Trump had earlier blamed the USA neighbors to the north and south for being "difficult" in talks to renegotiate the pact.

"If these reports are true, it's a bad day for American consumers", John Bozzella, CEO of Global Automakers, said in a statement.

Not a one-way road: The US auto industry exported almost 2 million vehicles worldwide worth $US57 billion.

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