US tariffs on imports of European and Asian cars are still avoidable, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Sunday.

Ross told Bloomberg TV that Washington has held positive talks with foreign automakers and governments over the proposed measure. He said he hoped the tariffs of 5-15% on foreign cars may be unnecessary in light of those negotiations.

“We’ve had very good conversations with our European friends, with our Japanese friends, with our Korean friends, and those are the major auto-producing sectors,” Ross said on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bangkok.

Read more: US imposes record $7.5 billion tariffs on European goods

“Our hope is that the negotiations we’ve been having … will bear enough fruit that it may not be necessary to put the 232 [Section 232 of a 1962 trade law] fully into effect, may not even be necessary to put it partly in effect.”

Last year, US President Donald Trump asked the Commerce Department to determine whether the dominance of foreign carmakers threatened US national security. In May, three months after the department submitted its report, Trump delayed until later this month a decision on whether to impose the tariffs.

Read more: BMW opens Mexico plant despite Trump tariff threats

Wilbur Ross seated at a desk

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

If the president proceeds with the measure, it would mark a major escalation in the US-EU trade conflict and, above all, hit German automakers hard. The industry says tariffs would add thousands of dollars to vehicle costs and potentially lead to hundreds of thousands of job losses throughout the US economy.

White House officials have said tariff threats are a way to win trade concessions from Brussels. At the same time, Trump may want to avoid further raising tensions with major trading partners ahead of next year’s US presidential election.

In September, Washington signed a deal with Japan to avoid higher tariffs on its automakers. A US-South Korea trade deal, signed last year, also exempts that country from the measure.

mm/jlw (dpa, Reuters)

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