Toyota Motor Corp on Friday criticized U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to declare some auto sector imports a national security threat, saying it sends a message to the Japanese automaker that "our investments are not welcomed."
The automaker, which is in the middle of building a $1.6 billion joint venture assembly plant and said in March it will invest $13 billion in U.S. operations by 2021, said in a statement that its U.S. operations "are not a national security threat."
President Donald Trump on Friday announced a six-month delay in imposing steep tariffs on auto imports, seeking to pressure Europe and Japan into bargaining table concessions on trade.
The decision marked a temporary reprieve from what would have been a sizable escalation in Trump's multi-front trade wars.
Trump's threat targets a major chunk of global economic activity with profound disruptions. Hundreds of billions of dollars in autos are manufactured, shipped and sold internationally every year.
In a proclamation, the president directed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to update him within 180 days on the outcome of negotiations with the EU, Japan and "any other country" Lighthizer deems appropriate.
By leaving the threat of tariffs hanging, Trump's move raises the temperature in European capitals already angered by the imposition of punishing US duties on steel and aluminum last year.
Trump's decision also preserved a truce declared last year with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in which both sides agreed to cease trade hostilities while efforts continued to resolve the trade dispute.
'Competition must be improved'
In his proclamation, Trump described the U.S. auto sector as facing decline due to unfair foreign competition.
A report by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross concluded that America's shrinking share of the auto market jeopardized its research, development and manufacturing -- all "vital to national security," according to Trump.
In a conclusion likely to invite challenges from manufacturers and industry analysts, Trump said America's defense industrial base relied on the domestic auto sector for technological advances essential to U.S. "military superiority."
Citing Ross's conclusions, Trump pointed to a doubling of U.S. imports over the last 34 years but accused Europe and Japan of raising "significant barriers" to accepting American exports in return.
In that same period, the domestic market share of American-owned manufacturers fell to just 22 percent from 67 percent, he said.
"In light of all of these factors, domestic conditions of competition must be improved by reducing imports," Trump said.
Reacting to the announcement, Dieter Kempf, head of the German industrial federation, said "cars do not threaten the national security of the United States."
The United States imported almost $200 billion worth of autos in 2017, according to the proclamation.
But, while foreign-branded cars are popular in the United States, many automakers have championed their U.S.-based manufacturing operations in places like Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina.
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