Global auto powers plot response to Trump auto tariff threats

Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mexico and South Korea will meet in Geneva to discuss how to respond to threats by U.S. President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on U.S. imports of autos and car parts, officials familiar with the talks said.

The Trump administration has come under heavy criticism from automakers, foreign governments and others as it considers tariffs of up to 25 percent, a levy critics warn will hike vehicle costs, hurting auto sales and global industry jobs.

Several auto manufacturing powers have been talking to each other in recent days about their fears and a possible coordinated response to Trump’s “Section 232” investigation, which he ordered on May 23, into whether auto imports are a threat to U.S. security, sources say.

The probe could be completed within weeks, although similar ones ordered last year that led to tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum took about 10 months. The Commerce Department has 270 days to offer recommendations to the president after such a probe starts. He then has 90 days to act upon them.

It was not immediately clear what kind of response the countries could be looking at, although Canada, the EU and Mexico retaliated with their own tariffs after Trump imposed levies on steel and aluminum imports in March. Another option is to fight the United States at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Deputy ministers will gather in Geneva on Tuesday, July 31, to hear each other’s views, a Canadian official and a Mexican official told Reuters, asking to not be named because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

“The meeting is meant to bring together major auto producing nations so we can discuss our concerns over the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 investigation of automobiles and parts,” said the Canadian government official.

Mexico’s economy ministry confirmed Deputy Economy Minister Juan Carlos Baker will travel to Geneva for “work meetings about several subjects,” including meeting World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Roberto Azevedo. The Canadian foreign ministry declined to comment.

According to the WTO website, Azevedo will meet Baker on Monday, followed by Canada’s Deputy Trade Minister Timothy Sargent and Japan’s Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Kazuyuki Yamazaki on Tuesday. The Mexican official said the meetings were related to the auto tariff issue.

Eventual tariffs on autos could hit companies including Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co, Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp and Germany’s BMW, as well as global factories for U.S. brands General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

Trump’s agreement on Wednesday to refrain from imposing car tariffs on the EU in return for reduced trade barriers for U.S. products has helped cool fears of a trade war, but his final decision will not be known until the security investigation is concluded in coming months.

The U.S. automakers lowered their full-year profit forecasts on Wednesday due to the trade frictions, and their stocks fell as investors bet the disputes would hurt margins and sales.

Although hopes of a breakthrough in U.S.-EU trade talks boosted carmakers on Thursday, the planned meetings are a sign that auto-producing nations want to prepare for the worst.