Foreign Trade

Donald Trump’s Nafta Plan Would Confront Globalized Auto Industry

from The Wall Street Journal,

Tens of thousands of parts that make up a vehicle often come from multiple producers in different countries and travel back and forth across borders several times.

President-elect Donald Trump has said that in his first days in office he will begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, which connects Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and leave the pact if Mexico doesn’t agree to improved terms for the U.S. He blames unfair trade, in particular with Mexico and China, for the loss of millions of factory jobs.

Ending the 1994 trade pact is relatively easy. The U.S. legally can pull out of Nafta six months after Mr. Trump as president notifies Mexico and Canada of his intention to do so, according to a September study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. Imposing tariffs on imports lies within the authority of U.S. presidents. For the auto industry, as Mr. Fledderman’s business shows, such a change would be substantially more complicated, because of the multilayered connections between U.S. and foreign suppliers and assembly points. The tens of thousands of parts that make up any vehicle often come from multiple producers in different countries and travel back and forth across borders several times. This is a tenet of modern manufacturing: Where a product is ultimately assembled increasingly has little bearing on where its component parts are made.

more than half the parts in the Focus today are made outside the U.S. and Canada, including 20% in Mexico. Ford also ships in some of the car’s engines from Spain and transmissions from Germany. Similarly, only 10% of the parts that go into the 200,000 BMW luxury crossovers built each year in Spartanburg, S.C., come from U.S. and Canadian plants, according to U.S. government data. The rest are imported from Europe and elsewhere. BMW in turn exports most of the Spartanburg plant’s production around the world. By contrast, 70% of the components in the Honda CR-Vs assembled in Guadalajara, Mexico—the production of which soon will be moved to central Indiana—are currently made by U.S. and Canada-based factories, data show. The parts that make up a car or truck, from bolts to motor blocks, window lifts to oil filters, account for two-thirds of its value, according to the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, a trade group.

“You can’t buy an American-made car anymore. You can buy an American-assembled car,” said Loren Baisden, 32, a 13-year veteran of Ford’s assembly line now working at the company’s heavy-truck chassis plant in Avon Lake, Ohio.

“The free flow of components is integral to the supply chain in auto manufacturing,” Steve Arthur, an automotive analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said Thursday. It is “a situation not easily or inexpensively reversed.” Still, with so much final assembly moving to Mexico, the epicenter of North American auto production, which for more than a century has been deeply rooted in the Midwest, is moving an average of 14 miles toward the Southwest annually, according to a 2014 analysis by IHS Markit Automotive Advisory, the consultancy. The neighboring small Indiana cities of Anderson and Muncie, which straddle Interstate 69 less than hour’s drive north of Indianapolis, have been suffering that migration for more than three decades, as General Motors Co. and its suppliers have decamped for the south. The cities collectively have lost tens of thousands of high paying factory jobs.

[Mr. Todd Murray, President of Mursix Corp., a family-owned supplier company on the edge of Muncie,] said Wednesday that if a Trump administration overhauls or scraps Nafta, and gets tough with China, it could ultimately help him fend off that competition. In the short run, he said, the healthier operating margins available to companies producing in Mexico will outweigh any new U.S. import duties. With the right policy mix, including lower corporate taxes, Mr. Murray said, any profits from Mexico operations could be invested to create cutting-edge technology jobs in the U.S.

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