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China has agreed to lower, remove tariffs on cars: Trump

Beijing hasn't commented on the move that could mean a reprieve for car makers like Tesla, BMW and Daimler

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Of China's US$51 billion of vehicle imports last year, about US$13.5 billion came from North America, including sales of models made there by non-US manufacturers like BMW.

Beijing

PRESIDENT Donald Trump said in a late-night tweet that China has agreed to "reduce and remove" tariffs on imported American-made cars, a claim that Beijing wouldn't confirm or deny.

The American leader gave no other details in his post, which came shortly after he agreed with President Xi Jinping to a truce in the trade war during a meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina. In a briefing in Beijing a few hours after the tweet, China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to comment on any car tariff changes.

The move, if ratified, would hand automakers from Tesla Inc to Daimler AG and BMW AG a potential reprieve after higher levies hit sales in the world's biggest car market.

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The tweet comes after the US and China emphasised different results from Sunday's high-stakes meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Xi. China, which has hiked the tariff on US-made cars coming into the country to 40 per cent amid the trade fight, hasn't made a similar announcement on auto tariffs.

China said last week that tariffs on American cars would be 15 per cent if not for the trade dispute, and called for a negotiated solution. Chinese officials discussed the possibility of lowering tariffs on US car imports before the two leaders met in Argentina, according to a person familiar with the situation, who requested anonymity. But the magnitude and timing of such a reduction were unclear, the person said.

The trade war has taken a toll on car companies that manufacture in the US, with the makers of Mercedes-Benz and its rival BMW both warning of lower profits this year as tariffs forced them to hike prices in China. Car sales in the world's second-biggest economy declined for a fifth consecutive month in October, bringing the market closer to its first annual drop in at least two decades. This has piled pressure on auto companies that have relied on the country for growth amid declining car sales in the US.

Tesla didn't respond to an email seeking comment; BMW's China unit didn't offer an immediate comment on Mr Trump's tweet.

The tariff reduction benefits Daimler and BMW more than US automakers such as General Motors Co or Ford Motor Co because the German luxury brands dominate the top 10 list of vehicle imports into China.

Janet Lewis, an analyst at Macquarie Capital Securities in Tokyo, said: "China isn't giving away that much, as German automakers like BMW and Daimler benefit the most. Longer-term, China has more to gain from free trade in autos."

Local Chinese manufacturers such as Guangzhou Automobile Group Co and Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd are looking to move overseas, she said.

Chinese car-maker shares pared gains, while shares of auto dealerships in China and Hong Kong rallied on Mr Trump's tweet. China Grand Automotive Services Co, which sells various car brands and provides auto financing, surged by the 10 per cent daily limit in Shanghai.

"If China cancels tariffs on high-end imported cars, that should benefit dealerships as the prices will be lower," said Angus Chan, a Shanghai-based analyst with Bocom International.

Last week, Mr Trump ordered a separate review of China's 40 per cent tariff on auto imports from the US, 25 percentage points of which is the result of Chinese retaliation against his own tariffs on imports from China. The US currently charges a 27.5 per cent tax on imported cars from China.

Of China's US$51 billion of vehicle imports last year, about US$13.5 billion came from North America, including sales of models made there by non-US manufacturers like BMW.

China imported 280,208 vehicles, or 10 per cent of total imported cars, from the US last year, according to China's Passenger Car Association.

US exports of cars and light trucks to China were worth US$9.5 billion in 2017 and have dropped off significantly since China imposed its retaliatory tariffs over the summer that gave exporters in Europe and Japan a significant advantage.

The trade spat between the US and China is set to cost BMW some 300 million euros (US$341 million) this year, chief financial officer Nicolas Peter said last month.

The company started making the X3 SUV in China this year, in addition to the several other models like the 1-, 3- and 5-Series sedans.

For Tesla, a tariff cut will provide a boon until the company sets up local production. The Palo Alto, California-based car-maker has been working with Shanghai's government on establishing a factory to assemble cars in China.

Foreign car-makers have long pleaded for freer access to China's auto market, while its own manufacturers are trying to expand abroad.

In April, China announced a timetable to permit foreign automakers to own more than half of local car-making ventures. BLOOMBERG