WASHINGTON — Even as the Trump administration opted to delay implementation of tariffs against imported autos and auto parts, nearly 170 members of Congress sent a letter urging the administration to reconsider those tariffs.
The White House was supposed to decide May 17 on whether to levy tariffs on autos and auto parts under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, but President Trump instead decided to delay the decision for six months pending further trade negotiations with the European Union and Japan.
Administration spokespersons said the tariffs could interfere with those talks, as well as with trade talks with China and congressional approval of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), Mr. Trump's replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Section 232 investigations, conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce, determine whether imports of any given product threaten the national security by harming a U.S. industry.
Commerce began its Section 232 investigation of autos and auto parts in May 2018, two months after President Trump levied Section 232 tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum.
The agency completed its auto investigation in February. So far, the report on the investigation has not been made public, but the White House has said it contains evidence that imports of certain autos and auto parts threaten national security.
The impending Section 232 decision prompted 89 Republican and 79 Democratic members of Congress to draft a letter to Lawrence Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council within the Trump administration, saying that Section 232 tariffs on autos and auto parts would harm the auto industry and the U.S. economy.
"We support efforts to increase manufacturing jobs and our manufacturing base here in America," the letter said.
"However, we are convinced that the products hard-working Americans in the auto sector design, build, sell, and service are not a threat to our national economy," it said.
The auto sector accounts for nearly 4% of U.S. private industry jobs, according to the letter.
"However, if tariffs were to be implemented, new vehicle prices will likely increase, threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs," it said.
"We are also concerned that vehicles outside of the intended scope of the investigation will be subject to tariffs," the letter said.
"Parts used in passenger vehicles may overlap with motorcycles, recreational vehicles, construction equipment, heavy-duty trucks, farming equipment, powersports vehicles and others," it said.
The Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) — which represents motor vehicle and mobility suppliers and parts manufacturers and remanufacturers in the U.S. — issued a statement May 10, saying its concerns about Section 232 tariffs were identical with those stated in the letter, which was sponsored by Reps. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.; Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.; Ron Kind, D-Wis.; and Drew Ferguson, R-Ga.
"MEMA has argued that these broad, unilateral, and import-restrictive measures, if imposed, could jeopardize the 871,000 vehicle supplier jobs in the U.S., harm the global competitiveness of the U.S., and diminish investment in the U.S.," it said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also weighed in, calling the threat of imposing tariffs on autos a "misuse of the administration's trade authorities."
"The importation of passenger cars and auto parts is not a threat to national security, ..." Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said.
"The continued threat of tariffs on cars and auto parts only creates more uncertainty weakening our economy."
The Section 232 investigation is different from the 25% import tariffs the Trump administration levied on May 10 on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. Section 301 gives the president authority to take remedial action against countries that commit unfair trade practices against U.S. goods.