Trade War Watch: American-Made Mercedes-Benz SUVs Held Up at Chinese Ports Over ‘Safety Risk’

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Mercedes-Benz sport-utility vehicles assembled in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, are being checked for potential problems by Chinese customs authorities in Shanghai, according to the nation’s media. The situation was later confirmed by Daimler AG on Thursday.

Officially, custom agents discovered the imported GLE and GLS models possess “insufficient” rear brakes and pose a safety risk. However, this isn’t China’s first time holding up product from the Tuscaloosa factory. Daimler confirmed that its American-made SUVs, along with vehicles from Ford, were held up for several weeks in late April. 

According to Reuters, a China-based Ford executive said the company was being asked to perform additional checks on emission components. Meanwhile, a second unnamed industry official said China subjected BMW and Daimler to similar delays. BMW later denied the claims, however.

“Customs pretends there are technical non-conformities of some nature that won’t allow them to clear these U.S.-made cars through customs, but the U.S.-China trade frictions must be the background to this,” the official said. “Although no one will officially admit it.”

Japanese and German vehicles built outside the United States aren’t facing similar delays at Chinese ports. While this may be indicative of nothing, the holdup of American goods extends beyond the automotive realm and seems to coincide with periods of particularly aggressive trade decisions from the United States. For example, the April customs hold-up took place immediately after President Trump accused China of stealing American technologies through joint-venture requirements and unfair listening practices, all while preparing $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods.

The more recent port delay with Mercedes took place as Chinese authorities prepared additional retaliatory tariffs of 25 percent on $16 billion worth of U.S. imports from numerous industries, including automotive.

American-made vehicles are subject to an elevated import tariff of 40 percent, though China kept its promise with the rest of the world and reduced automotive duties to just 15 percent. Last month, this helped raise the number of vehicles imported into the nation from countries other than the United States. Foreign automakers shipped 165,000 vehicles into China through July, breaking the previous record of 134,000 from four years earlier.

“We are working with the relevant authorities to resolve the issue,” a Daimler spokeswoman said on Thursday. The company could not identify the number of vehicles affected but described the situation as an “entirely technical issue.”

The United States has a new 25 percent tariff on $16 billion worth of Chinese goods scheduled for August 23rd, the same day China imposes its import fee of the same amount. We’ll let you know if more American-made vehicles find themselves in need of additional safety checks at Chinese ports.

[Image: Daimler AG]

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