Trade War Watch: U.S. Public to Have a Say on Auto Import Threat

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There was a mighty blowback against the Trump administration’s suggestion to elevate tariffs to as much as 25 percent on all foreign-built passenger vehicles.

Already reeling from fresh import fees on aluminum and steel, Europe expressed its collective distaste on new taxes while Japan vowed to plead a strong case for itself. Meanwhile, prominent politicians and two of the largest automotive trade groups in the country came forward to condemn the plan, stating it was “confident that vehicle imports do not pose a national security risk” to the United States.

While the administration has already launched its investigation to determine whether vehicle and auto part importers threaten the industry’s health and ability to develop advanced technologies, the government noted that a second opinion wouldn’t hurt. Announced on Tuesday in the Federal Register, the the Commerce Department will allot two days in July for public comments on the matter. 

“There is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement last week. Still, he promises to conduct a “thorough, fair and transparent investigation.”

According to Reuters, the issue may not be as clear-cut as Ross suggests. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says U.S. auto production has doubled over the past decade, adding that it’s worried the tariffs “would deal a staggering blow to the very industry it purports to protect and would threaten to ignite a global trade war.”

As for public opinion, the Commerce Department wants to hear from individuals on whether “innovation in new automotive technologies is necessary to meet projected national defense requirements,” as well as comments on the “displacement of any domestic automobiles and automotive parts causing substantial unemployment, decrease in the revenues of government, loss of investment or specialized skills and productive capacity.”

It hopes to gain clarity as to the role domestic production plays in national defense, and if foreign-owned factories influence that issue in a meaningful way. Written comments are due by June 22nd, with rebuttal comments scheduled for July 6th. Public hearings take place in Washington on July 19th and 20th.

[Image: Ken Lund/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)]