Automakers await Trump decision on tariffs

WASHINGTON — Automakers around the world are awaiting a decision from President Donald Trump on whether he will impose up to 25 percent tariffs on U.S. light-vehicle and auto part imports after a 180-day review period elapsed this week.

Trump was briefed ahead of the expiration of the self-imposed deadline, which he set in May, to decide whether to again extend a review or impose tariffs that automakers have warned could cost jobs and dramatically boost vehicle prices.

“I’ll make a decision fairly soon. I was fully briefed and I’ll make a decision fairly soon,” Trump said on Wednesday.

Officials from major automakers told Reuters they believe Trump will not impose new levies on vehicles from the European Union, Japan or elsewhere amid a trade war with China.

The Trump administration first launched its probe of foreign autos in May 2018 and six months ago Trump agreed with an administration study that some imported cars and trucks are “weakening our internal economy” and threaten to harm national security, but stopped short of naming specific vehicles or parts.

Trump could make an announcement on Friday, but nothing is final until he signs off, administration officials say.

Trump has been especially critical of foreign-made vehicles and jawboned both U.S. and foreign automakers to build more cars and light trucks in the United States. “Cars are the big one,” he said last year.

A delay on tariffs could push the issue back to the middle of the 2020 presidential campaign and experts say it could be harder for Trump to impose a hefty tariff on a major consumer product close to an election.

Tariffs may not be necessary, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said earlier this month. EU officials also expect Trump to announce a six-month delay.

On May 17, Trump had postponed a decision on tariffs by up to 180 days as he ordered U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to pursue negotiations.