WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Commerce Department has released a confidential Trump administration report that was the basis for the former president's threats in 2019 to impose tariffs on imported automobiles on grounds of national security.
Then-U.S. President Donald Trump in May 2019 declared that some unidentified imported cars posed national security risks. He refused to release the report to Congress or the public, which prompted a lawsuit seeking its disclosure.
Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who drafted legislation to require the report's release, said in a statement on Tuesday that "a quick glance confirms what we expected: The justification for these tariffs was so entirely unfounded that even the authors were too embarrassed to let it see the light of day."
Trump threatened but never imposed tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported cars or parts. Automakers said tariffs would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of auto jobs, raise vehicle prices and threaten industry spending on self-driving cars.
The redacted 116-page report said research and spending by the largest foreign-owned automobile producers reflected de facto subsidies in their home markets, citing Volkswagen Group and Toyota.
"Significant import penetration over the course of the past three decades has severely weakened the U.S. automotive industry," the report said.
This "jeopardizes U.S. military leadership and its ability to fulfill America's defense requirements," it said.
German automakers had the most at stake if Trump imposed trade penalties, analysts said. Trump had complained since mid-2017 about the German cars’ presence on U.S. streets and tweeted threats to tax German automakers’ vehicles.
Autos Drive America, a group that represents the U.S. operations of international automakers, said its members “vehemently disagree with the report’s analysis and conclusions.”
“Baseless tariffs on imported autos and automotive parts do not serve the interests of the United States and the 10 million Americans whose jobs are supported by the U.S. auto industry,” Jennifer Safavian, the group’s CEO, said in a statement Wednesday. “Maintaining open trade and investment policies benefits American workers, consumers and strengthens the global competitiveness of the U.S. auto industry."
American-owned automakers include General Motors, Ford and Tesla, the report said. It did not include Chrysler which is a part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, now under Stellantis.
The release is the latest reversal by the Biden administration of a Trump-era decision. President Joe Biden has taken a more conciliatory approach with some U.S. trading partners.
Audrey LaForest of Automotive News contributed to this report.