Global auto leaders urge Trump administration to end trade turmoil

DETROIT- Auto executives gathered in Detroit on Monday called on the Trump administration and Congress to resolve trade disputes, and end the government shutdown, saying political uncertainty is costing the industry.

U.S. trade officials are negotiating a new deal with China in hopes of avoiding new tariffs, while a new regional trade agreement with Canada and Mexico still needs congressional approval. Automakers producing vehicles in the United States are contending with U.S. steel and aluminum prices driven higher by Trump administration tariffs.

General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co are also taking financial hits from the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs.

“Those are headwinds,” GM President Mark Reuss told Reuters. “It’s our job to run the business to offset those headwinds.”

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra last Friday promised investors the company would boost 2019 profit despite tariff-related costs and investments in electric vehicles. She stuck to her plans to target five North American factories for closure and cut nearly 15,000 jobs overall.

About one-quarter of federal government operations have been shut down by a lack of funding since Dec. 22 after President Donald Trump demanded $5.7 billion this year from Congress for building a security wall on the southwest U.S. border.

Manley said the U.S. government shutdown is holding up certification of one of the company’s new heavy duty pickup truck models. Those vehicles are among the company’s most profitable products.

“The earlier it can be resolved, clearly the better,” he said.

Concern in the auto industry about the uncertainty created by Trump’s efforts to revamp trade and environmental policies is weighing more heavily as forecasters call for a slowdown in vehicle demand in the United States and China during 2019.

“There’s a lot of balls in the air right now that are unresolved,” Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. told Reuters on the sidelines of the auto show. “Certainty is something we really desire because of our product lead times. We don’t have that right now.”

Ford said the automaker feels its opinions are being heard by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, but he has no idea when the various issues will be resolved.

U.S.-China trade tensions have forced Chinese automaker GAC to delay its planned entry to the U.S. market, Wang Qiujing, head of GAC’s research and development center, told Reuters on Monday. “We have postponed our launch until the first half of 2020,” he said, adding that the timing will depend on the outcome of U.S.-China trade negotiations. If the current 25 percent U.S. tariff on Chinese-made vehicles continues, “the impact will be very significant,” he said.

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