Trump Delays Auto Tariffs in Press for Deal With Japan, Europe – The New York Times

The president has made heavy use of tariffs as a cudgel to both extract concessions from trading partners and limit the influx of foreign goods into the United States. But the tariffs rest on a controversial and little-used legal provision that gives the president broad authority to limit imports to protect the national security of the United States. Mr. Trump’s Friday proclamation said a Commerce Department investigation concluded that imports of autos and certain auto parts threatened to impair the national security of the United States. It mentioned innovations in the automotive sector, including autonomous driving and engine technology, saying that the rapid application of such commercial breakthroughs was “necessary for the United States to retain competitive military advantage.”

“Automotive technological superiority is essential for the national defense,” the White House proclamation said. “In light of all of these factors, domestic conditions of competition must be improved by reducing imports.”

But many outside the administration have criticized the linkage of cars with national security, saying that view of national security is overly broad, and pointing out that the bulk of American auto imports come from the country’s closest allies. Mexico, Japan, Canada, Germany and South Korea were together responsible for more than 85 percent of American automotive imports in 2018.

“The idea that U.S. automakers are threatened by automotive imports is fundamentally flawed and ill conceived,” said John Bozzella, the president of Global Automakers, which represents foreign car brands. “No automaker or auto parts supplier asked for this ‘protection.’”

Economists and industry analysts have argued that the tariffs would raise the cost of American cars and weigh on the United States economy. The Center for Automotive Research, a research group partly funded by the industry, estimated the measures could increase the price of a new vehicle by $455 to $6,875, depending on the specific policy taken.

At a hearing last July on the tariffs, every witness present, including representatives of foreign governments, car companies, parts makers and dealerships, testified in opposition to the measure. The only exception was the United Automobile Workers union.

Jennifer Kelly, the union’s research director, said that the tariffs could address real problems with American automotive factories moving offshore, but that “rash actions” might also have “unforeseen consequences, including mass layoffs of American workers.”

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