President Donald Trump renewed earlier threats to levy heavy tariffs on new vehicles imported from Europe.
Trump has periodically threatened to raise tariffs on such vehicles since he took office in 2017. His threats have been heard less frequently since last fall as trade talks between the United States and European Union have intensified.
However, there has been no resolution as the COVID-19 pandemic, economic problems that followed the virus and set unemployment soaring, rising tensions with China as well as the protests across the U.S. sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police also have kept the Trump administration occupied for weeks.
The issue of trade with the EU came up again at the end of last week during a discussion with commercial fishermen from Maine. The fishermen told Trump they were at a disadvantage because Canadian fisherman can sell lobsters caught off New England to European customers without paying any kind of tariffs.
Lobsters caught in the same water by fisherman from Maine face tariffs, representatives of the U.S. seafood industry told Trump. China, in retaliation for Trump administration trade policies, also have imposed stiff tariffs on lobsters caught by fishermen from Maine.
At that point during this discussion last week, Trump again rolled out his threat against European auto shipped to the United States and summoned Peter Navarro, his principal adviser on trade-related issues to look into the matter.
“That’s a natural for you — excuse me,” told Navarro according to the official transcript posted on the White House.gov website.
“Yes, sir,” Navarro replied according to the official transcript of the June 5 conference.
“That’s a natural for you. European Union charges us a tariff; they don’t charge Canada a tariff. This is for the press: So Canada doesn’t pay a tariff for the same exact lobster in the same waters, but we pay a tariff. If the European Union doesn’t drop that tariff immediately, we’re going to put a tariff on their cars, which will be equivalent — coming in — come in for nothing, which is ridiculous. Okay? Do you understand? It’s going to be the equivalent-plus,” Trump added.
“Yes, sir,” Navarro said. However, Trump continued to make his point.
“It’s going to be the equivalent-plus. Watch how fast that tariff comes off. All right? Watch how fast. It should be plus, plus, plus. Okay? I’m going to put Peter Navarro in charge of it. That’s perfect for him. I’ll take that one off your plate, okay?” Trump said.
It’s not clear at this point how much weight the Trump administration will put behind the latest threat. Car dealers, an important Trump constituency, have pushed back against the tariff threats during the past three years.
In addition, the auto industry is facing enormous pressure from the economic upheaval created by the pandemic, which forced business across the U.S. to shut down for the better part of three months.
Trump, during the appearance, pointed to a new report from the U.S. Department of Labor, showing the U.S. added more than 2 million jobs in May. The jobs report shows the U.S. economy will recover quickly from the impact of the pandemic, according to Trump.