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Trump backs potential new auto import tariffs

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday indicated he favoured using tariffs to protect the US auto industry, which was rocked by this week's announcement of job cuts at General Motors.

[WASHINGTON] President Donald Trump on Wednesday indicated he favoured using tariffs to protect the US auto industry, which was rocked by this week's announcement of job cuts at General Motors.

In two tweets, the president said that extending tariffs already in place for foreign-built small trucks to the car sector would help domestic manufacturers.

"The reason that the small truck business in the US is such a go to favorite is that, for many years, Tariffs of 25 per cent have been put on small trucks coming into our country," he wrote. "If we did that with cars coming in, many more cars would be built here."

Mr Trump told Congress to "get smart" and added: "The president has great power on this issue - because of the GM event, it is being studied now!"

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Mr Trump's comments come as the Commerce Department finalises its recommendations on whether tariffs make sense. A spokesman for the department said in a statement that it had yet to submit a final report to the president.

A German magazine reported that the measures could be announced as early as next week, targeting all autos apart from those made in Canada and Mexico.

The president, who has made trade wars a signature of his "America first" administration, was angered by GM's decision to cut thousands of jobs in a series of plant closures, including in Ohio and Michigan.

And on Tuesday, Mr Trump threatened to cut government subsidies to the auto giant, which was saved by a taxpayer bailout in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown.

Shares of GM rose 0.7 per cent to US$36.95.

Other automakers, including Ford and Fiat Chrysler, also gained but by less than the 2.3 per cent jump in the S&P 500 on a winning day for Wall Street.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom warned that retaliation would follow any US tariffs on autos.

"The EU has a retaliation tariffs list ready if the US imposes autos tariffs on the EU," she said Wednesday.

The EU has already retaliated against the United States earlier this year for the steep tariffs Trump imposed on steel and aluminum, which Brussels says are "deeply unjustified."

Mr Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed in July to hold off on any new tariffs while negotiations were underway.

Automakers have urged the US to forgo additional tariffs, arguing the levies would dent auto sales.

BMW Chairman Harald Kruger echoed that stance in an interview with AFP on the sidelines of the Los Angeles Auto Show, saying "it's clear what we need free trade and trust because that creates wealth, that creates success, that creates profits for all sides where everyone is benefiting."

Many foreign-branded sedans sold in the United States, including Toyota and Honda models, are manufactured locally and theoretically the tariffs Trump proposed Wednesday would not affect them.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on China to come to a deal with the United States to avoid a massive new round of tariffs that Mr Trump says are aimed at correcting decades of unfair Chinese trade practices.

He will meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires at a dinner during the Group of 20 summit that runs Friday and Saturday.

AFP