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White House presses German automakers to expand U.S. investments



WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Trump administration officials on Tuesday were expected to push senior executives of leading German automakers to expand their investments in the United States as the White House considers imposing new tariffs on European-made vehicles.

Volkswagen AG CEO Herbert Diess arrives for a meeting between senior Trump administration officials and top executives of Volkswagen and Daimler AG at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow were among those holding meetings with Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE), BMW AG (BMWG.DE) and Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) executives.

The White House said President Donald Trump would also meet briefly with the executives, something that had not initially been on the schedule.

The U.S. officials aim “to discuss investment opportunities in the U.S., which includes manufacturing and other forms of investment (including) R&D in new generation technologies,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

Trump has threatened to impose stiff tariffs on cars assembled in the European Union as part of his “America First” trade policy.

On the way into the White House, Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche told reporters he was “hopeful,” while VW Chief Executive Herbert Diess said he hoped new U.S. tariffs could be avoided. “Let’s wait and see,” Diess said.

Although the European Commission handles trade negotiations on behalf of the common trading bloc, the Trump administration has summoned the auto bosses as part of a campaign to “rebalance” global trade flows.

Speaking on Monday, Kudlow said the Trump administration would talk about “a lot of things, including our hope that they will continue to invest directly in the U.S. and that they will use … (North American) content … make engines here, if you will.”

Kudlow said he did not think that car tariffs were imminent, though he added that they were in Trump’s “quiver of arrows.”

Last week, BMW said it was considering building a second manufacturing plant in the United States that could produce engines and transmissions, drawing praise from Trump, who has made the revitalization of U.S. manufacturing a key pillar of his economic program.

The Commerce Department has circulated draft recommendations to the White House on its investigation into whether to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported cars and parts on national security grounds, Reuters reported in November.

A U.S. government official briefed on the matter told Reuters on Monday that no final report on the investigation is expected for at least a couple of weeks.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Paul Simao