Trump Administration Confirms National Security Threat, Delays Auto Tariffs for Six Months

On Friday, May 17, President Donald J. Trump issued a proclamation directing the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to negotiate trade agreements to address the national security threat posed by imports of foreign automobiles and certain automotive parts. The proclamation provides for 180 days of negotiations, delaying the decision on whether to impose import restrictions until November 13, 2019.

The announcement comes in response to a Department of Commerce investigation initiated a year ago under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The Department submitted its statutorily-required report to the President on February 17, 2019, concluding that imports of automobiles and certain automobile parts threaten to impair the national security of the United States. Specifically, the Department highlighted the importance of domestic R&D expenditures and innovation in ensuring long-term automotive technology superiority” that is critical to the defense industry.

The President’s proclamation highlighted a near-doubling of automobile imports into the United States from 1985 to 2017 and the declining share of the U.S. automobile market held by American-owned producers during the same time period (now 22% vs. 67% in 1985). Additionally, the proclamation cites the difficulty of U.S. producers to export as a result of protected foreign markets – specifically in the European Union and Japan.

In directing the trade negotiations, the proclamation specifically mentions the European Union, Japan and any other country the Trade Representative deems appropriate.” The President highlighted the potential benefits of the renegotiated United States-Korea agreement and the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in addressing the national security threat.

Under the statute, a decision was required by the President within 90 days of receiving the Department of Commerce report. The decision to enter into trade negotiations was one option. Alternatively, in concurring with the Department’s findings, the President could have announced more immediate action to adjust imports (e.g., tariffs or quotas), or could have asked for additional analysis or review.

If agreements are not reached by November 13, 2019, the President will determine whether and what further action needs to be taken to address the national security threat.