President Donald Trump wants his staff to move forward with plans to apply 25 percent tariffs on foreign cars before the midterm elections in an attempt to score points with their political base, according to officials of the administration and the automotive industry.
The president believes in a promise of car taxes, trucks and auto parts from US competitors such as Europe and Japan would allow him to present a concrete victory to workers, officials said.
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"Trump sees auto rates as part of his medium-term strategy, a way to position Republicans and the White House as pro-workers," said a senior administration official. He sees it as part of the broader story about helping to revitalize the American economy. "  Raising the price of foreign cars would be the latest in a series of aggressive commercial moves by Trump, which is betting that its supporters will be more focused on protecting local jobs than on increasing costs for consumers or the potential loss of jobs in factories in the United States that manufacture spare parts for foreign cars. It would add to the new sanctions it has already imposed on imports of steel and aluminum and its harsh rhetoric about trade deficits with US allies.
But before he can impose sanctions under US law, Trump must first get the Department of Commerce to declare vehicles like Toyotas and Audis a security threat. The agency has taken the first step by launching an investigation into whether imports of auto parts and auto parts by $ 228 billion in 2017 represent a risk, perhaps undermining economic welfare. And now, sources said, Trump is pressing the agency to deliver results before voters go to the polls in November.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for the Department of Commerce denied that the investigation, which can take up to 270 days under the law, is accelerating for political reasons. But three industry sources said there is an obvious push to have something on the president's desk long before the November election, as he seeks to take advantage of his efforts to wrest concessions from business partners.
"First he wants to add this to the mix to strengthen his influence with Canada and Mexico on NAFTA, and it will be useful for him to use against the EU in relation to his automatic tariffs or with Japan to try to bring them to the table of negotiations in a bilateral agreement [trade deal]"he said. a source of industry "He wants leverage as soon as possible."
Still, there are doubts about how the new tariff threat will really help Republicans to retain seats in Congress.
"It does not seem like a very successful medium-term strategy to use rates if Republicans in Congress lead the fight against them," said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen. Wallach has largely supported Trump's trade policies with respect to workers.
Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, which were imposed under the same national security authority he wants to use for automobiles, have provoked strong criticism from Republican lawmakers. Some have even mobilized to push legislation to verify their commercial powers, although recent efforts seem to falter.
Possible fares on cars and auto parts have also provoked a mixed reaction from the unions, a key sector for Trump's trade. policies United Steelworkers, which represents workers in industries that supply automobile manufacturers and auto parts manufacturers, has been the only major labor group that has publicly endorsed the investigation.
United Automobile Workers, which has just over 430,000 active members nationwide, has not yet taken a position on the investigation.
"We're looking at everything," UAW's new president, Gary Jones, told reporters at the group's convention in Detroit on Thursday, just hours after he was elected. "I have not studied it enough and I have received enough information about it."
Car manufacturers also have conflicts. Domestic automobile producers such as Ford, GM and Chrysler, represented by their lobby in Washington, the American Automotive Policy Council, did not take a position in the investigation. The foreign manufacturers of automobiles with a large production in the United States have opposed with greater force to the action and warned that the tariffs "would undermine the health and the competitiveness of the American automotive industry".
Politically, the action "may have the short-term impact" "Search and, in the long run, be much more damaging," said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Automotive Research Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
A rate action could be "incredibly unpopular once it is in place and played for a while," he said.
The US automotive industry UU., Composed by car manufacturers based in the USA. UU And foreigners, it is already operating at approximately 80 percent of its capacity and produced around 11 million vehicles last year. That production filled approximately two-thirds of the US automotive market. UU., That had total sales of around 17.3 million vehicles in 2017.
If the goal is to boost US manufacturers in the short term, "there are not many places where they can get more production," said Dziczek.
There is also the question of time and resources.  A senior administration official warned that Commerce is overburdened by Trump's requests and can not issue the report as quickly as the president wishes.
The division within the department that is handling the investigation, the Office of Industry and Security, already stretched to the limit.
The department is still reeling from the similar investigation that resulted in tariffs on steel and aluminum. The staff is in the process of processing thousands of requests from companies that ask that certain products be excluded from those rates.
"I know you are very burdened by your existing work," said a senior senior official at the Department of Commerce.  Ross promised that steel and aluminum research would be completed in just over two months after its launch on April 20, 2017. However, the final investigation was not completed until January 11, 2018, and only after considerable scrutiny by the Department of Defense and other agencies.
On June 22, the deadline for public comments on self-research approaches, and a public hearing will be held July 19-20.
"The writers of the report are already quite frantic trying to find the data they need to support a case," said Dziczek.
Doug Palmer and Andrew Restuccia contributed to this report.