President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to escalate a trade war with Europe by imposing a 20 percent tariff on all US imports of European Union-assembled cars, a month after the administration launched an investigation into whether auto imports pose a national security threat.
Politico reported that the German auto industry has been open to reducing tariffs, but only if it ended up being part of a larger trade negotiation between the USA and the EU.
The EU trade commissioner acknowledged that it had targeted some iconic American items to increase political pressure on the US President and senior US politicians.
A group representing major US and foreign automakers has said it was "confident that vehicle imports do not pose a national security risk".
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The U.S. Commerce Department is investigating whether imports of automobiles and auto parts pose a risk to national security. Tariffs for those materials now stand at 25% in a move to protect local producers.
The U.S. already has a 2.5 percent tariff on European cars. With Trump's latest salvo, he threatened tariffs on up to $450 billion in China's exports, out of a total of just over $500 billion in goods sold to the United States.
"The upshot: By exporting more finished vehicles from the United States than it imports to the United States, BMW may be helping to lower America's trade deficit".
The European Commission said its retaliatory tariffs are based on the value of its steel and aluminium exports affected by the United States measures, which are worth €6.4bn. Industry data shows that German automakers build more vehicles in southern US states that voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election than they ship to the United States from Germany. Administration officials have said China should strengthen protections for USA companies' intellectual property, and reduce tariffs on US products.
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"The rules of global trade, which we have developed over the years hand in hand with our American partners, can not be violated without a reaction from our side".
A Mercedes spokesman has been approached for comment. It accounts for 5% of VW brand sales and 12% of Audi sales.
But the automakers who would be most affected by the tariffs already build a lot of their cars here. "I see it helping the used vehicle market more".
German automakers Mercedes, BMW, and Volkswagen all have plants in southern states and directly employ more than 20,000 U.S. workers between them, primarily at those factories. It would also hurt the operations of Porsche, which imports all of its cars from Germany.
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The spat is part of a wider tussle over global trade.