President Donald Trump on Tuesday accused motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson of quitting on the United States by moving more of its manufacturing overseas to avoid hefty new European Union tariffs on its bikes made in the U.S.
In a string of Twitter comments targeting the iconic American manufacturer, Trump contended that "A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never!"
With Harley's falling U.S. sales, Trump declared, "Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end - they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!"
The U.S. leader said that the company, based in the midwestern state of Wisconsin, had already announced plans last year to move some of its manufacturing from the U.S. to Thailand and now was using the 31 percent tariff the EU is imposing on Harley's U.S-made bikes as an excuse to further increase overseas production. Parts for the firm's motorcycles are made throughout the world, including in Brazil, Australia, India, Japan and Mexico.
Harley-Davidson said the EU tax would add $2,200 to the cost of each U.S. bike it sent to Europe, potentially costing the company up to $45 million for the rest of 2018 and about $90 million to $100 million annually in the future. Trump warned that the company "must know that they won’t be able to sell back into U.S. without paying a big tax!"
Trump first vented his ire at the company Monday, saying he was "Surprised that Harley-Davidson, of all companies, would be the first to wave the White Flag" and move manufacturing overseas because of the EU tariffs. He urged the company, whose top officials visited the White House last year shortly after Trump took office, to "Be patient!"
Aside from taxing the Harley imports, the EU is imposing new levies on several iconic U.S. brands, including Levi's jeans and Kentucky bourbon, all in response to Trump's imposition of new tariffs on European steel and aluminum exports.
The EU's top trade official, Cecilia Malmstrom, said Harley's move toward making its bikes overseas is a result of Trump's tariffs.
"We don't want to punish, but that is the unfortunate consequence, that [U.S. companies] will put pressure on the American administration to say 'Hey, hold on a minute. This is not good for the American economy,'" Malmstrom said.
‘They must play fair’
In his Tuesday tweets, Trump defended his trade battles with the EU, Canada, Mexico and China.
"We are getting other countries to reduce and eliminate tariffs and trade barriers that have been unfairly used for years against our farmers, workers and companies," he said. "We are opening up closed markets and expanding our footprint. They must play fair or they will pay tariffs!"
Trump said the U.S. is finishing its study of tariffs on cars the EU exports to the U.S. He claimed that the EU has "long taken advantage of the U.S. in the form of Trade Barriers and Tariffs. In the end it will all even out - and it won’t take very long!"
Trump told a political rally Monday night in South Carolina, "I want the barriers taken down, I want our farmers to be able to trade" in Canada and Europe with reduced tariffs.
Since he began campaigning for president, Trump has sought to put U.S. trade interests first, including working to negotiate new trade deals with some of the country's largest economic partners. That has included talks to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, as well as separate efforts to alter existing relationships with the European nations.
China has been the recipient of some of Trump's strongest words as his administration demanded changes to address the longstanding gap in trade between the two countries. Those talks have brought threats from both sides of new tariffs that have also helped shake financial markets fearing a trade war between the world's two largest economies.
"They might not be helping us anymore and that would be too bad," Trump said Monday. "I've been as nice as I can as long as I can, but we got to get some balance and it doesn't have to be perfect, but there's got to be some fairness."
U.S. stock markets plunged Monday on fears of an international trade war, but Asian markets were mixed on Tuesday and European stocks advanced in early-day trading.