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China to Cut Import Duty on Cars to 15% After Truce With Trump

Ying Tian, Haze Fan, Yan Zhang

China will cut the import duty on passenger cars to 15 percent, boosting auto makers such as BMW AG and Ford Motor Co. just as the immediate threat of a trade war with the U.S. recedes.

The Finance Ministry said Tuesday the levy will be lowered effective July 1 from the current 25 percent that has been in place for more than a decade. Bloomberg News had reported last month that China was weighing proposals to reduce the car import levy to 10 percent or 15 percent.

A reduction in import duty follows a truce between President Donald Trump’s administration and Chinese officials as they seek to defuse tensions and avert an all-out trade war. While the levy reduction could be claimed in some quarters as a concession to Trump and will be a boon to U.S. carmakers such as Tesla Inc., the move will also end up benefiting European and Asian manufacturers from Daimler AG to Toyota Motor Corp.

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Shares of Jaguar Land Rover owner Tata Motors Ltd. and BMW AG jumped on the news.

Tata Motors gained as much as 4.7 percent in Mumbai while BMW rose as much as 1.5 percent in Frankfurt. Daimler added as much as 1.3 percent.

The latest round of tariff easing is part of a flurry of policy announcements in recent months aimed at demonstrating China’s commitment to opening the economy -- partly in response to the accusations of protectionism leveled by the Trump administration. Beijing has also pledged to slash ownership limits in the auto sector as well as in banking, and last November reduced import tariffs on almost 200 categories of consumer products.

The import duty on car parts will be reduced to 6 percent, the Finance Ministry said.

To read a QuickTake on trade war, click here.

China announced May 18 that it would end its anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into imports of U.S. sorghum, citing “public interest.” That move, coupled with recent steps including restarting a review of Qualcomm Inc.’s application to acquire NXP Semiconductors NV, signal a conciliatory stance from the Chinese side.

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President Trump retreated from imposing tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods because of White House discord over trade strategy and concern about harming negotiations with North Korea, according to people briefed on the administration’s deliberations.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that the administration’s plan to impose tariffs had been suspended, and Trump said on Twitter on Monday that the Chinese had agreed to purchase unspecified amounts of American farm products.

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China’s Imports

China imported 1.22 million vehicles last year, or about 4.2 percent of the country’s total sales of about 28.9 million automobiles. At the Boao Forum in April, President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s commitment to reduce import tariffs on vehicles.

Of the $51 billion of vehicle imports in 2017, about $13.5 billion came from North America including sales of models made there by non-U.S. manufacturers like BMW.

China imported 280,208 vehicles, or 10 percent of total imported automobiles, from the U.S. last year, according to China’s Passenger Car Association, an industry trade body.

A duty cut would typically benefit luxury carmakers or manufacturers, like Tesla, that don’t have a local production site. Most automakers produce mass-market models in China.

For Tesla, a tariff cut will provide a boon until the company manages to set up local production. The Palo Alto, California-based company has been working with Shanghai’s government since last year to explore assembling cars in China. China’s announcement by Beijing that it will allow foreign new-energy vehicle makers to fully own auto factories as early as this year removed the primary hurdle in the way of founder and billionaire Elon Musk.

Luxury sales leader Audi, part of Volkswagen, has been making cars in China since 1990s. General Motors Co.’s Cadillac, which has relegated Lexus to fifth in the luxury-car rankings, opened a factory in Shanghai in 2016.

High-end autos will feel the effects of a tariff cut because less of their production has moved locally. For example, Toyota’s Lexus would benefit as the only premium Japanese marque that doesn’t manufacture in China or hasn’t announced plans to do so.

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Foreign carmakers have long pleaded for freer access to China’s auto market, while its own manufacturers are expanding abroad. In April, China announced a timetable to permit foreign automakers to own more than 50 percent of local ventures.

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