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Trump administration weighs slapping tariffs on auto imports

[WASHINGTON] The US Commerce Department said Wednesday it launched an inquiry that could allow the Trump administration to impose tariffs on auto imports over national security concerns.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced he initiated a so-called Section 232 investigation on auto trade - which would provide the legal basis to impose tariffs, if his department finds imports threaten US national security - after speaking with Donald Trump on the matter.

"There is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry," Mr Ross said. "The Department of Commerce will conduct a thorough, fair, and transparent investigation into whether such imports are weakening our internal economy and may impair the national security."

In a separate statement released by the White House, Mr Trump said he had "instructed" Mr Ross to "consider" kicking off the probe.

"Core industries such as automobiles and automotive parts are critical to our strength as a Nation," Mr Trump's statement said.

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The Trump administration had used the same justification to slap steep tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Wednesday that Mr Trump was asking for vehicle import tariffs as high as 25 per cent.

Mr Trump has frequently railed against China's high import duties on foreign cars, and in the course of recent negotiations President Xi Jinping offered to cut the rate to 15 per cent from 25 per cent.

The Journal, citing sources in the auto industry, said the plan to retaliate likely would face significant opposition from trading partners and auto dealers that sell imports.


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