MADISON, WISCONSIN - Motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson, which President Donald Trump singled out Tuesday when discussing foreign trade barriers, warned earlier this year against responding to such restrictions by imposing higher American tariffs.
Trump said in his speech to Congress that executives from Harley-Davidson told him they have trouble selling motorcycles outside of the United States because of high taxes.
While other countries impose heavy taxes and tariffs on American products, the United States doesn't do the same when importing other countries' products, Trump said in the speech. He called for free, but fair, trade.
But a lobbyist for Harley warned that imposing additional tariffs on foreign imports could end up hurting sales, in comments submitted to the Office of the United States Trade Representative earlier this year.
In a Jan. 30 letter posted on the office's website, Edward Moreland said Harley-Davidson opposes additional duties on the motorcycles imported from Europe because of the prospect of Europe raising their fees in response.
"Harley-Davidson sells tens of thousands of motorcycles in Europe each year and retaliatory tariffs would result in a significant impact to the Motor Company's business," he wrote. The letter was in response to a list of products on which the United States was considering imposing tariffs to counter Europe's refusal to accept U.S. beef.
Harley-Davidson spokeswoman Pat Sweeney said Trump was correct that high taxes and tariffs in countries such as India and Indonesia put the company "at a competitive disadvantage.'' Asked whether Moreland's letter means the company opposes imposing tariffs on foreign products in other situations, she said the company is "open to trade policies that address barriers to international growth."
Trump canceled a visit to Harley-Davidson's Milwaukee facility last month, which was expected to draw a significant number of protesters. Instead, Harley executives traveled to Washington for the Feb. 2 meeting. Trump said the executives told him business was good but mentioned the difficulty of selling motorcycles abroad.
"They told me - without even complaining because they have been mistreated for so long that they have become used to it - that it is very hard to do business with other countries because they tax our goods at such a high rate," Trump said of their meeting. "They said that in one case another country taxed their motorcycles at 100 percent.''
Harley-Davidson sales in India, which imposes high import taxes on all luxury motorcycles and cars, rose 30 percent in the past two years. The company began assembling some bikes in India in 2011 to reduce tariffs.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who rides a Harley-Davidson, told reporters in Madison on Wednesday that Trump loves to talk about the company's motorcycles and he would like to get Trump on one for a ride. As for the company's overseas troubles, Walker said he's advocated for years that Wisconsin products can outperform any other product given a level playing field.