Mobility Portal, Spain
Date: April 18, 2024
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By Mobility Portal
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Following pressure from the US, Mexico could suspend incentives for Chinese EV manufacturers

The US intervention reflects increasingly acute fears from its automotive industry, unions and political circles that Chinese automakers such as BYD, SAIC, Geely, Chery and JAC aim to use Mexico as a back door to sell cheap EVs in the US without paying tariffs.
China exports electric vehicles (EV) BYD

Mexico‘s federal government, under pressure from the United States (US), is keeping Chinese automakers at arm’s length by refusing to offer such incentives as low-cost public land or tax cuts for investment in EV production, three Mexican officials familiar with the matter said.

The last meeting between top Mexican officials and a Chinese automaker was in January, the sources said, with executives of BYD.

At the meeting, the officials made clear they would not give incentives like those awarded to automakers in the past and that officials would be putting on pause any future meetings with Asian automakers, said the sources.

The office of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Mexican Economy Ministry declined to comment.

BYD officials and the Chinese embassy in the Latin American country did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also, Reuters was not able to ascertain which Asian automakers have requested meetings since. And Mexican government officials typically do not disclose subsidies given to the companies for plants.

About 20 Chinese automakers now sell cars in Mexico but none yet have a plant in the country. These vehicles constitute about a third of the total brand offerings in the country.

The sources attributed the move to US government pressure, specifically from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), to keep Asian automakers out of the free trade zone established under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A USTR official’s response to Reuters did not address the reported pressure, but the official said the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was not meant to “provide a back door to China and others who may be seeking to access our market without paying tariffs.”

The official said the USTR is focused on that issue as it relates to autos, steel and aluminum.

The US intervention reflects increasingly acute fears from its automotive industry, unions and US political circles that Chinese automakers such as BYD, SAIC, Geely, Chery and JAC aim to use Mexico as a back door to sell cheap electric cars in the United States without paying tariffs, now at 27.5 percent.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said on Wednesday the US must take decisive action to protect EVs from subsidized Chinese competition.

What are the causes and consequences?

Mexico, Latin America’s second-largest economy, is caught in the crossfire between the world’s two biggest economies and car markets.

Last month, Republican US Senator Marco Rubio proposed legislation seeking much higher tariffs on Chinese vehicle imports.

Two days later, three Senate Democrats from auto manufacturing states urged the Biden administration to hike import tariffs on Chinese EVs.

Asian automakers can get around US tariffs by setting up shop in Mexico, as long as they meet rules for how much of a vehicle must be produced locally.

“A sizeable proportion of the goods arriving in Mexico by ocean will likely be trucked into the US, which gives rise to the suspicion that the increase in trade we are witnessing is due to importers trying to circumvent US tariffs,” stated Peter Sand, chief analyst with research firm Xeneta.

In order to avoid US tariffs, goods must have a certain percentage of regional assembly and components, varying depending on the product and the sector.

At least 75 percent of core vehicle parts – like engine or transmission – must be originated in the North American region.

Despite the headwinds, Chinese automakers are still looking to put down roots in Mexico.

In late February, BYD insisted that any factory in Mexico would serve the local market and not ship to the U.S, but many industry officials are skeptical.

One of the sources told Reuters that BYD was now chasing incentives from state governments instead even though they are substantially less beneficial than the federal ones.

Industrial states like Durango, Jalisco, Mexico State and Nuevo Leon are looking for Chinese automakers to open assembly plants, offering a wide range of incentives.

For example, Nuevo Leon last December approved 153 million dollars in incentives for a Tesla plant.

Federal incentives have in the past been generous, including free land, water and energy facilities and help in hiring workers, said Francisco Bautista, a partner at EY in Mexico.

Bautista added that these kinds of incentives have been reduced under the current government, but some have still been given to major investors like Volkswagen’s Audi.

In September, Mexican officials from the Economy and the Foreign Relations ministries traveled to Washington to meet with US Commerce Department, Department of State and USTR officials as part of US-Mexico high-level talks.

In the meeting, the subject of Chinese automakers establishing EV production in Mexico was raised for the first time although it was not on the agenda, the sources said.

The officials met again in January 2024 in Toronto, where another request was made by US officials to hinder Chinese automakers.

The Mexican Foreign Relations ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mexican officials said that although Chinese investment could help the local economy, the government is concerned about angering Washington with USMCA up for revision in 2026.

Under the “sunset clause,” in July 2026 the three countries will decide whether to extend the USMCA for another 16 years.

Mexican officials fear US officials could seek to overhaul the trade pact to Mexico’s detriment, one of the sources said.

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