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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump's hair is ruffled by a breeze as he speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 23, 2018, en route to a day trip to New York. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's administration on Wednesday began an investigation into whether tariffs are needed on the imports of automobiles into the United States, moving swiftly as talks over the North American Free Trade Agreement have stalled.

Trump predicted earlier that U.S. automakers and autoworkers would be "very happy" with the outcome of the NAFTA talks.

The White House said in a statement that the president had asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to consider whether the imports of automobiles, including trucks, and automotive parts threaten U.S. national security. The president said in the statement that "core industries such as automobiles and automotive parts are critical to our strength as a Nation."

The U.S. remains far apart on the talks over rewriting the trade pact with Canada and Mexico, with the discussions at an impasse over rules for car production. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said that efforts to renegotiate the trade agreement could spill into next year.

Nearly half of the vehicles sold in the U.S. are imported, with many coming from assembly plants in Mexico and Canada. During a meeting with auto executives earlier this month, Trump said he would push for an increase in the production of vehicles built at U.S. plants. He has also criticized European Union auto imports and tariffs and earlier this year threatened a "tax" on European imports.

Trump brought a little-used weapon to his fight to protect autoworkers: Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The provision authorizes the president to restrict imports and impose unlimited tariffs on national security grounds.

The Trump administration used that authority in March to slap tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports.

Information for this article was contributed by Paul Wiseman of The Associated Press.

A Section on 05/24/2018

Print Headline: White House studying need for tariffs on vehicle imports

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