Car dealers often get involved in local civic issues and sometimes even politics, though they don't usually stick their noses in foreign relations.
So it seems odd that the American International Automobile Dealers Association plans to send representatives to trade talks in Thailand this month.
Because the group represents car dealers who sell import brands in America -- and is a strong backer of the Bush administration and its free trade strategy -- AIADA was invited to tag along by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which is hammering out a free trade agreement with Thailand.
Back home, the group has lobbied for decades to repeal the U.S. government's 25 percent tariff on imported pickups. The tariff is known as the Chicken Tax because 40 years ago the Johnson administration imposed it as retribution for a German tax on imported frozen poultry from U.S. producers.
Volkswagen was the major importer to the United States back then, and the Chicken Tax, which was aimed at the German automaker, was one of the main reasons VW dealers banded together and formed AIADA.
Avoiding the Chicken Tax is one of the reasons that automakers based overseas produce pickups in North America.
A free trade agreement with Thailand could kill or cut the Chicken Tax on pickups built in that Asian country and possibly open a stream of low-cost pickups flowing to U.S. dealerships.
Mazda -- and Ford -- dealers could be quick beneficiaries because AutoAlliance has a factory in Rayong Province, Thailand, that already builds Mazda pickups for Asian markets. Toyota, Nissan and Isuzu also build pickups there.
Having representatives there when the deal is done would be a political coup for AIADA's leadership, which made a free trade agreement with Thailand one of its top lobbying goals last year.
It also might relieve some of the heat AIADA's board has felt for the association's plans to set up its own political action committee.
At least for a while.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]