TOKYO -- The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association said it is "profoundly disappointed" by U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration that imported vehicles and parts threaten national security, echoing a statement made just days ago by Toyota Motor Corp.
Although the comments are unusually strong, the source is no surprise: Toyota President Akio Toyoda is also chairman of JAMA, the influential trade group.
"We are dismayed to hear a message suggesting that our long-time contributions of investment and employment in the U.S. are not welcomed," Toyoda said in a statement Tuesday. "As chairman, I am deeply saddened by this decision."
Such language is unusual for Japanese companies, and reflects growing concern that Trump may trigger an all-out trade war ahead of U.S. elections next year. Trump on Friday agreed with his Commerce Department, which concluded imports of vehicles and auto parts have threatened national security by eating into the market share of “American-owned” carmakers since the 1980s. The White House set a 180-day deadline for negotiating deals with Japan, the European Union and other major auto exporters.
"Any trade restrictive measures would deliver a serious blow to the U.S. auto industry and economy, as it would not only disadvantage U.S. consumers, but also adversely affect the global competitiveness of U.S.-produced vehicles and suppress company investments in the U.S.," Toyoda said.
Japan’s auto industry has 24 factories, 45 r&d or design centers and 39 distribution centers in 28 states, according to the statement. Japanese carmakers have invested approximately $51 billion in manufacturing facilities and provide more than 93,000 direct American jobs, JAMA said.
Toyota has the most at stake in the U.S., where it sells 23 percent of its vehicles, compared with 21 percent in its home market. Toyota had been taking steps to inoculate itself from the increasingly contentious trade stance. Two months ago, Japan’s biggest automaker added $3 billion to a five-year, $10 billion U.S. investment plan, which it announced in early 2017 after drawing criticism from the then-president elect for planning to build Corolla cars in Mexico.
Even so, all those efforts have done little to curb repeated threats by the White House to impose tariffs of as much as 25 percent on imported vehicles and auto parts.
Other auto organizations have also registered concern about the Trump administration’s saber-rattling. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing a dozen of the largest domestic and foreign carmakers with operations in the U.S., warned Friday that higher prices from tariffs could put 700,000 American jobs at risk.