The US Commerce Department said on Wednesday it would accept a request from President Donald Trump to probe whether auto imports should be curbed on national security grounds.
"I instructed Secretary [Wilbur] Ross to consider initiating a Section 232 investigation into imports of automobiles, including trucks, and automotive parts to determine their effects on America’s national security," Trump said in his request.
Read more: Trump's tariffs on European cars — a massive own goal?
Shortly thereafter, Ross said he would initiate the probe and that "there is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry."
Trump had signaled the move on Twitter earlier on Wednesday, writing: "There will be big news coming soon for our great American autoworkers."
Two separate 232 investigations by the Commerce Department ended with the administration imposing controversial tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House is considering tariffs of up to 25 percent on car imports under the new investigation.
Three car industry sources also told Reuters news agency that Trump had said he was planning 20 or 25 percent tariffs on some imported vehicles during a May 11 meeting with industry leaders at the White House. The president, they added, explicitly criticized German companies for exporting large numbers of cars into the US.
EU in the crosshairs
Although the White House has not previously indicated it was mulling a Section 232 probe into car imports, Trump has recently lashed out at auto imports from the European Union and China.
“If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S.,” Trump wrote on Twitter in March.
In April, he wrote: "When a car is sent to the United States from China, there is a Tariff to be paid of 2 1/2%. When a car is sent to China from the United States, there is a Tariff to be paid of 25%. Does that sound like free or fair trade. No, it sounds like STUPID TRADE - going on for years!
amp/rc (Reuters, AFP)