President Donald Trump's unexpected announcement that the USA would consider tariffs on imports of foreign vehicles has raised red flags among trade experts and prompted new fears of a trade war with some of America's closest allies.
The investigation "will consider whether the decline of domestic automobile and automotive parts production threatens to weaken the internal economy of the United States", the Commerce Department said.
The Journal, citing sources in the auto industry, said the US' moves to retaliate likely would face significant opposition from trading partners and auto dealers that sell imports.
Section 232 investigations are used to determine the impact of imports on national security.
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Germany's association of industry groups said auto tariffs would be a "provocation" and "another nasty blow to our economic relations" with the United States. "If these tariffs are imposed, consumers are going to take a big hit", said John Bozella, President of Global Automakers, a trade group representing foreign manufacturers doing business in the U.S.
That could lead to new US tariffs - up to 25 percent - similar to those imposed on imported steel and aluminum in March.
Trump has repeatedly vowed to impose tariffs to protect the U.S. auto industry, having been elected in 2016 on a promise to bring back millions of lost American jobs from overseas.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump tweeted that there will be "big news coming soon" for American autoworkers.
"Maybe other countries were in mind when the president was contemplating that but the reality is the two largest importers into the United States are Canada and Mexico", he said.
The United States imported 8.3 million vehicles in 2017 worth $192 billion, including 2.4 million from Mexico, 1.8 million from Canada, 1.7 million from Japan, 930,000 from South Korea and 500,000 from Germany, according to USA government statistics.
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He said the legal team was "pretty comfortable, in the circumstances of this case, that they wouldn't be able to subpoena him personally".
The threat of tariffs could also be a useful bargaining chip, as the USA tries to negotiate new trade agreements with Japan, Mexico, Canada, and the European Union. At the same time, it imported 8.3 million vehicles in 2017 worth $192 billion, including 2.4 million from Mexico, 1.8 million from Canada, 1.7 million from Japan, 930,000 from South Korea and 500,000 from Germany.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Trump levelled the same accusations against Mexico, in regards to the ongoing NAFTA negotiations. "After many decades of losing your jobs to other countries, you have waited long enough!"
Lawmakers from both Trump's Republican party and Democrats have rejected any easing of the ZTE sanctions, saying the move would pose a national security threat.
Members of the Commons worldwide trade committee are in Washington, D.C. this week for a series of meetings. He has complained about the difficulties US carmakers face selling their products overseas, raising the subject with Asian and European allies.
The value of trade imports into the European Union from the United States amounted to 6.157 billion euros while exports of EU-built cars to the United States amounted to 37.4 billion previous year, representing nearly 30 percent of the total EU export value.
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The footnote appears in a report giving the first extended look at Trump's income from his properties since he became president. CREW, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, filed a complaint with the ethics office that was referenced in Mr Apol's letter.