Back to Normal: U.S. Auto Tariff Threats Return for EU
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump threatened to impose fresh tariffs on European automotive imports if the region can’t work out a trade deal with the United States. The good news is that the U.S. is already in the opening stages of negotiation with the United Kingdom, which is due to leave the EU at the end of January. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has even said a key benefit of Brexit is the ability to negotiate with countries like the U.S. independently.
Unfortunately, the rest of Europe doesn’t seem as eager to do business — encouraging Trump to fall back to tariff threats. But there’s clearly a retaliatory angle here. In 2018, the EU threatened punitive tariffs on traditionally American items like whiskey and motorcycles as a response to Trump’s intent to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. He’s targeting French goods this time, mentioning 100-percent fees on imported luxury goods from France (champagne, handbags, etc.), additional levies on digital services, and a 25 percent duty on European cars.
UAW Counting Strike Votes As Contract Negotiations Continue
The United Automobile Workers are tallying strike votes as union leadership decides which contract terms are worth fighting over. While this is par for the course in any contract negotiation with General Motors, Ford, or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, this year’s talks have been mired in scandal and economic uncertainty.
Despite the continued strength of the U.S. economy, the automotive industry has been busily preparing itself for a global recession — encouraging quite a bit of restructuring over the past year. Meanwhile, the UAW finds itself the subject of a federal corruption probe that has severely undermined its credibility. We know that at least one automaker, Fiat Chrysler, was actively bribing union officials. Following the recent conviction of the former head of the union’s FCA Department, Norwood Jewell, General Motors has also been implicated.
Trade War Watch: Automotive Tariffs and the European Union
It’s been nearly a year since President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker kissed and negotiated a temporary truce aimed at buying the United States and the EU time to renegotiate their positions without fear of new tariffs.
Unfortunately, it seems everyone had better things to do following the smooch.
Trade War Watch: Truce Ends, Tariffs Up, Talks Resume, Trump Tweets
Following an announcement that trade discussions with China had effectively broken down, President Donald Trump increased tariffs on $200 billion in goods from the country on Friday. The White House also issued an ultimatum, saying Beijing had about a month to reach an agreement before the U.S. enacts another 25-percent duty on $325 billion previously unaffected Chinese imports.
White the trade war has been in full swing for most of Trump’s time in office, the White House had indicated that discussions with China were progressing at the start of May. That changed after the People’s Republic returned a modified trade agreement that removed much of the legal language that would have made it binding while reneging on other aspects U.S. negotiators already assumed were settled. President Trump cited the backtracking as the primary reason for imposing a new round of tariffs.
Fortunately, the U.S. International Trade Commission said the tariff hike would only affect $2.3 billion worth of automotive goods — ranking them 10th on the list overall.
Industry Expects White House to Postpone Auto Tariff Decision 180 Days
Even though the United States plans to impose heftier trade duties on China tomorrow, and vice versa, automakers remain confident that the White House will decide to delay the hiking of other automotive tariffs on national security grounds.
The Commerce Department submitted its Section 232 national security report in February, leaving President Trump until May 18 to act. But manufacturers believe the preferred move will be to postpone the final decision another six months.
Backtrack Blowback: U.S. Makes It Official, Imposes Steep Tariffs on $200 Billion of Chinese Goods
The United States made good on a threat to impose higher tariffs on a new raft of Chinese goods Wednesday, days after the the People’s Republic reportedly backtracked on nearly every element of a draft trade deal hammered out by the two countries.
The 25 percent tariff officially hits $200 billion worth of Chinese goods on Friday, according to a Federal Register notice. As we told you yesterday, U.S. trade representatives reportedly took issue with China’s reluctance to change its laws to protect the intellectual property rights of U.S. companies.
Trade War Watch: Were the Auto Tariffs Ever Supposed to Be More Than a Threat?
The U.S. Commerce Department has submitted draft recommendations to the White House on its investigation into whether it’s prudent to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported automobiles and parts, based on the premise that they’re a threat to national security. The possibility has the industry in a tizzy, with both foreign and domestic brands lobbying against it.
Truth be told, we half assumed the entire concept was a ruse to bring other nations to the bargaining table with something to lose — a scenario where the United States could be viewed as a favorable alternative to tariff-crazy China. However, China has begun opening its market to foreign automakers while also placing a massive 40 percent duty on American autos, leaving the U.S. at a disadvantage. Now it looks as if the Trump administration may go through with everything.
Trade War Watch: Canada Says It'll Take Its Time Reaching a Deal; Japan's Up for Talks
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ignored mounting pressure from the United States to quickly agree to a new NAFTA deal on Wednesday. Trudeau indicated it was possible for the three nations to maintain a trilateral agreement, but noted his priorities would always align with what’s best for Canada. The nation now seems fine with ditching the agreement altogether.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that an agreement reached with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe allows the two countries to begin trade negotiations. The focus of these talks will likely be automotive in nature. Trump has remained oddly fixated with convincing Japan to sell more American-made models ever since taking office, and the Land of the Rising Sun doesn’t want itself saddled with import tariffs.
Lighthizer: U.S. Won't Bother Waiting for Canada on New NAFTA Pact
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said the United States will begin moving forward on its bilateral trade deal with Mexico at the risk of leaving Canada behind.
The nation was already given until the end of September to reach an agreement that would effectively maintain the existence North American Free Trade Agreement, but has not indicated satisfaction with the current terms. Unfortunately, the U.S. wants to ensure a deal is in place before the next Mexican president assumes office — giving it precious little time to spend on Canada after the last year’s worth of negotiations proved ineffective.
“If we push it beyond [October 1st], then we have a new negotiation with Lopez Obrador and we don’t know where that would go at all,” Lighthizer said. “It would be unfair to all the people that have been involved — certainly the U.S. workers, farmers and ranchers — to start a new negotiation with a new president of Mexico.”
Trade War Watch: NAFTA Window Almost Closed, Canada Still Isn't Interested
The United States is getting extremely close to having to move forward on its NAFTA deal with Mexico without Canada, according to White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett.
“I’m a little surprised that the Canadians haven’t signed up yet,” Hassett said in an interview with Fox News. “I worry that politics in Canada is trumping common sense because there’s a very good deal that was designed by Mexico and the U.S. to appeal to Canada. And they’re not signing up and it’s got everybody over here a little bit puzzled.”
On Thursday, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met in Washington to discuss terms. However, no agreement was reached.
Apparently, Everyone Negotiating NAFTA Is a Child
If you’re anything like this author, you’ve probably abandoned discussing the North American Free Trade Agreement in your personal life. That’s not because it stopped being important, but rather due to the fact that none of the three countries involved seem capable of making any sort of progress.
Presently, the United States and Mexico are focusing on rules associated with automotive production. However, after two days of non-stop negotiation, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said the two sides haven’t resolved their differences on the pending issues. Now Mexico says it won’t consider further negotiations until Canada agrees to a deal.
Here’s where things get remarkably shitty. Canada has already explained that it’s waiting for the U.S. and Mexico to strike a deal of their own. “If they can resolve their differences on [automotive trade], then I think we can move ahead and have the three of us talk about some of the other issues that affect all of us,” David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S, said in an interview earlier this month.
Three's Company, Too? Canada Returning to NAFTA Dance As U.S. and Mexico Approach Auto Deal
Canada says it could rejoin the NAFTA discussion, just as the United States and Mexico approach an agreement on automobiles. The two nations engaged in bilateral negotiations a little less than a month ago, seemingly making positive headway on a trade deal.
With President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador assuming office in December, it’s in the United States’ best interest to close a deal as soon as possible. It’s assumed the man, frequently referred to as “AMLO,” will make sweeping changes to the Mexican government. However, he also promises to join forces with several smaller parties from both the right and left to create a coalition aimed at rooting out corruption. The resulting level of uncertainty has many fearing difficult Mexican policy changes and trade negotiations in the future, effectively forcing a restart of NAFTA talks.
According to David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., the duo are close to finalizing a deal on automotive manufacturing. If so, the Northern nation is prepared to rejoin negotiations.
Looks Like NAFTA Renegotiations Aren't Happening This Year
Governance is one hell of a slippery fish. While you want your elected officials to assist in helping the nation evolve with an ever-changing society, you don’t want a deluge of contradictory and ill-planned laws mucking things up. That’s why the best progress is carefully measured and negotiated. But something has to happen eventually or you begin wondering what we (and the various lobbies) are paying these dingbats the big bucks for.
For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement looks like it’s about to be abandoned until sometime after 2019. After negotiations missed numerous self-imposed deadlines, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress needed a notice of intent to sign by roughly May 17th if anything was to be finalized for 2018. That date came and went. Now, everyone appears to have thrown their hands up, with practically every country on the planet currently considering retaliatory tariffs against the United States.
Bet You Forgot Today Was the NAFTA Deadline
If you forgot today was the deadline for finalizing North American Free Trade negotiations, don’t worry, so did practically everyone else. In fact, the whole affair is starting to feel like that old car that’s been sitting in your friend’s yard for far too long. He keeps telling you he’s going to fix it up and make it better than new. “This is the summer,” he says. But you know he’s just going to keep mowing around it while it continues to rust and collect mice, so you’ve tried to push it out of your mind.
Like the restoration, the entire concept of a deadline for the trade deal is rather arbitrary at this point. NAFTA’s initial target date for an agreement between the three countries was March 31st, roughly one year after negotiations began. The May 17th deadline was claimed by U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who said Congress had to be notified under the Trade Promotion Authority statute.
“We need to receive the notice of intent to sign soon in order to pass it this year,” explained Ryan’s office. “This is not a statutory deadline, but a timeline and calendar deadline.”
Basically, Congress wants to influence the president and NAFTA negotiators to conclude talks swiftly and reach an agreement before midterm elections. But Mexican officials warned everyone not to get their hopes up. “The possibility of having the entire negotiation done by Thursday isn’t easy, we don’t think it will happen by Thursday,” said Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo earlier this week.
Team Trump Eases Demands on NAFTA's Regional Auto Content
The United States is softening the contentious automotive content requirement mandates pushed by the Trump administration as part of NAFTA renegotiation talks. While the demand is only one of many asks coming from the U.S., both Canada and Mexico said forcing 85 percent of a vehicle’s overall content to be sourced from the three countries (in order to side-step tariffs) was a nonstarter. Over the past year, the issue became a major sticking point in the trade talks — hindering progress and possibly dooming them to failure.
While Trump’s intent was to bolster domestic employment by incentivizing North American parts suppliers, automakers expressed concerns and noted it was often difficult to reach the current threshold of 62.5 percent.
The United States has now proposed applying the new content requirement only to major components (like a vehicle’s powertrain) while leaving fasteners (nuts, bolts, etc.) alone. As an automobile is made up of tens of thousands of individual parts, deciding what should and should not be counted will make a big difference. Still, some manufacturers are likely to have difficulty meeting the proposed content requirement on critical engine components.