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Trump rips Harley-Davidson as company eyes overseas growth

US President Donald Trump in happier times greeted Harley Davidson CEO Matthew Levatich and hailed the company as a 'true American icon,' but in a series of caustic tweets attacked plans to move some production overseas to avoid EU tariffs
AFP

Washington (AFP) – President Donald Trump renewed his attacks on Harley-Davidson on Tuesday, threatening to tax the company for offshoring manufacturing and saying the iconic American motorcycles should “never” be built outside the United States.

One day after the Wisconsin-based company said it was planning to shift some manufacturing overseas due to the European Union’s tariffs in retaliation for US duties, Trump accused Harley-Davidson of appropriating the trade war as an “excuse” for the move.

EU officials, meanwhile, suggested Trump had only himself to blame for the falling-out with a company he had previously hailed as “a true American icon.”

The EU responded to US tariffs on steel and aluminum, but hitting a series of American products with import taxes, including motorcycles, bourbon and blue jeans.

“We don’t want to punish, but that is the unfortunate consequence, that (US companies) will put pressure on the American administration to say hey, hold on a minute, this is not good for the American economy,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said at a news briefing.

In a series of caustic early-morning tweets Trump dismissed any notion that his policies were responsible for Harley-Davidson’s move.

“Early this year Harley-Davidson said they would move much of their plant operations in Kansas City to Thailand. That was long before Tariffs were announced. Hence, they were just using Tariffs/Trade War as an excuse,” he said.

“When I had Harley-Davidson officials over to the White House, I chided them about tariffs in other countries, like India, being too high … Harley must know that they won’t be able to sell back into U.S. without paying a big tax!”

Harley-Davidson did not immediately respond to request for comment, but said the move overseas was to avoid EU tariffs, not to sell in the US market.

The company has repeatedly described the Thailand factory, along with other overseas production, as vital to its long-term need to boost foreign markets to make up for sluggish sales in the US.

Harley-Davidson announced in January it would close its Kansas City, Missouri assembly plant and consolidate jobs in York, Pennsylvania.

Local US media reported in May that a labor union for Harley-Davidson suggested some Kansas City jobs would move to Thailand — a move the company denied.

– Eyeing international growth –

Last year, Harley-Davidson announced it would build a plant in Thailand after Trump pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which would have abolished tariffs on their motorcycles across 40 percent of the world’s economy.

“We see tremendous opportunity particularly in Southeast Asia and the investment in the plant in Thailand to get around the egregious tariffs and duties is a part of accessing a very important market,” Harley-Davidson chief executive Matthew Levatich said in late April 24.

“We need to be there and be relevant,” Levatich said. “It’s very important to the long-term growth of the company as a segment within the international growth opportunity.”

Trump ridiculed the company for building motorcycles abroad.

“A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never!” he said on Twitter.

“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!”

That statement drew criticism from Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer, who said on Twitter, “If the Germans started saying this about BMWs or the Japanese about Toyotas, that’s a whole lot of Americans out of work…”

But Harley-Davidson’s plight in Europe drew fresh interest from French Parliament member Eric Straumann, who contacted Levatich to propose a new factory on the French-German border in Alsace.

“Our region is well renowned for the quality of its staff and its long tradition in the automobile and mechanical engineering sectors,” Straumann said in the letter to the company.

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