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Ford vehicles 'facing hold-ups at China ports' amid trade friction

Chinese customs want extra technical checks; some US-made German cars also hit: sources

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Ford shipped about 80,000 vehicles to China from North America last year - more than half of them Lincolns - including the Lincoln Continental (above) sedan and the Lincoln MKX crossover SUV.

Beijing

FORD Motor's imported vehicles are being held up at Chinese ports, three people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, underscoring how US goods are facing increased customs scrutiny in China amid a tense trade stand-off.

The three people said Ford cars and those of its premium Lincoln brand were facing unusual delays at customs, with officials asking for extra technical checks. Two of the people said US-made models of some German carmakers, mainly SUVs, being brought into China, were also affected.

Ford was being asked to do extra checks on emission components, said a China-based Ford executive familiar with the matter, asking not be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

China's customs agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The hold-ups add to a growing list of American products facing issues at China's borders, as officials try to avert a full-blown trade war. Some trade experts said they believe Beijing is sending a defiant warning to Washington in response to sweeping US trade demands made on China last week.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that China had ramped up inspections of pork shipped from the United States, after the country's customs agency said it would step up quarantine checks on American apples and logs.

The second person, a China-based industry official with knowledge of the matter, said the delays for Ford - as well as some US-made cars from BMW and Daimler's Mercedes-Benz - had been going on for the last two weeks.

"Customs pretends there are technical non-conformities of some nature that won't allow them to clear these US-made cars through customs, but the US-China trade frictions must be the background to this," he said. "Although no one will officially admit it."

Responding to a request for comment from Reuters, a BMW spokesman said that "US-made BMW cars have not been delayed at the ports as of last week and before."

A Daimler spokesman said it was "monitoring the situation closely" regarding ongoing trade talks between China and the US, but that she could not speculate further on other matters.

The third person said the Ford issue, which had been noted by the US government, and other hold-ups facing American goods, were clearly related to the trade dispute.

A Ford spokesman in Shanghai, when asked about the matter, said: "We are closely monitoring our situation at the port." She declined to comment further.

Imported Ford cars normally enter China via the eastern ports of Shanghai and Tianjin, she said.

Japanese and German carmakers that Reuters spoke to said they were not facing similar delays at China customs with imported vehicles made outside the United States.

It wasn't immediately clear if General Motors cars imported to China from the US were affected by the delays. GM plans to import only a total of about 150 vehicles to China from North America this year.

A Shanghai-based GM spokesman said: "Virtually all products we sell in China are built in China."

US President Donald Trump has threatened tariffs on up to US$150 billion of Chinese goods.

The United States alleges that Beijing misappropriates US technology through joint-venture requirements, unfair licensing practices, outright theft and state-backed acquisitions of American technology firms.

Beijing denies those accusations.

China's top economic official, Liu He, will visit Washington next week to resume trade talks, the White House said Monday, after a US delegation led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came away from a visit to Beijing last week with no agreement over a long list of US trade demands.

China is the world's largest auto market but has been the focus of criticism from Mr Trump over a 25 per cent import tariff and foreign ownership caps on local auto ventures. China has pledged to remove the ownership limits and lower import levies.

Ford has much to lose if the war of words over trade between China and Trump escalates into a full-blown tariff war.

Last year, it shipped about 80,000 vehicles to China from North America, more than half of them Lincolns - including the Lincoln Continental sedan and the Lincoln MKX crossover SUV.

All Lincoln vehicles that Ford now sells in China are brought in from North America. Last year the brand sold 54,124 vehicles in China, the world's largest auto market, up 66 per cent from 2016.

James Chao, Shanghai-based Asia-Pacific head of the IHS Markit consultancy, said delays of a few weeks would not likely cause sales disruptions since automakers keep on average 60 days of inventory. Longer delays, though, could have a bigger impact.

Julia Coym, a Shanghai-based senior analyst at the consultancy Control Risks, said the move was as much about sending a message to the White House as directly hurting Ford.

"China has started using these types of tools pressuring companies over political or trade disputes a lot more in the last couple of years," Coym said. She called the increased customs checks China's "intense quarantine method".

She pointed to a political stand-off last year between China and South Korea. South Korean firms who relied on Chinese consumers in sectors from retail to tourism were hit by increased inspections and a ban on tour group travel.

"This is part of China's play-book now," said Coym. "We would definitely expect to see more of this as the trade dispute intensifies further," she added, referring to the US-China standoff. REUTERS

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