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EU Defends Automakers with 30% Tariffs on Chinese Electric Cars, Risks Trade War

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The EU is preparing to impose 30% tariffs on Chinese electric cars to counteract unfair trade practices, risking a trade war with China. Experts warn of rising prices and economic repercussions.

The European Union is gearing up to impose higher tariffs on Chinese electric cars, in an attempt to counter what it identifies as unfair trade practices by Beijing. The proposed tariffs, believed to be around 30%, aim to protect the Union's auto industry from heavily subsidized Chinese imports. Brussels is growing increasingly concerned about China’s aggressive market entry, which has seen a flood of affordable Chinese electric cars disrupt the European market.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has indicated that the EU intends to respond 'much more specifically' than the United States, which already imposed tariffs ranging from 25% to 100% on Chinese products, including electric cars. The EU’s measures could entail special tariff rates targeting major Chinese suppliers like BYD, SAIC, and Geely, in addition to flat-rate tariffs for other manufacturers importing from China. This decision is likely to be made shortly after the EU Parliament elections, with a final inquiry report expected by July 4.

China has not taken these developments lightly, warning of potential retaliation. Beijing has hinted at imposing higher tariffs on European cars with large engines, which would impact brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and BMW. Additionally, China may target European industries ranging from aviation and agricultural goods to dairy products. Experts also suggest that China could restrict exports of essential materials for electric car production, such as rare earth elements and lithium.

While the tariffs are designed to bolster European automakers, they could also negatively impact Western manufacturers that produce in China and export to Europe, such as Tesla and BMW. For instance, BMW, which exports its models manufactured in China, may face significant price rises in Europe. There are fears this could escalate the trade conflict, with various industry bodies, including the Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), warning of potential economic repercussions.

The debate extends beyond just economic concerns to environmental ramifications. Ferdinand Dudenhofer, director of the CAR Institute for Automotive Research, asserted that tariffs on electric vehicles would hinder the transition to a greener economy. He noted that high customs duties on imported Chinese electric cars could lead to higher prices and reduce demand for affordable models. This sentiment is echoed by several European automakers who warn that protectionist policies could delay the shift toward more environmentally friendly vehicles.

Former Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess, now Chairman of Infineon Technologies, stressed that escalating trade tensions could jeopardize the global economy. Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany has also chimed in, cautioning against 'protectionism and illegal customs barriers' that could make goods more expensive and hinder economic prosperity.

In essence, the EU’s proposed tariffs on Chinese electric cars aim to protect its domestic auto industry but come with significant risks, including potential retaliatory measures from China and adverse impacts on international trade and the transition to a greener economy.

  • The proposed tariff increases reflect the EU’s broader efforts to tackle market-distorting practices, including subsidies provided by Beijing. A Bloomberg report highlighted that the European Commission found 'sufficient evidence' that Chinese electric vehicle imports are benefiting from state-backed subsidies such as direct money transfers, tax breaks, and provision of goods or services below market prices.
  • The potential impacts on European consumers are substantial, with prices for electric cars in Europe set to rise if the tariffs are implemented. This would affect not only Chinese brands but also European companies that manufacture in China. Some automakers, like Stellantis, support the tariffs as necessary for protecting domestic manufacturers, while others, such as Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, are concerned about the broader consequences of protectionist policies.
  • China's expansive market presence in the electric vehicle sector gives it substantial leverage, and its potential retaliatory measures could result in a significant trade confrontation. The debate continues between finding a balance between protecting local industries and maintaining broader economic and environmental goals.
Clam Reports
Refs: | Aljazeera | Merkur |

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