Biden admin bows slightly to European pressure in trade clash

The law and its new electric vehicle tax credit provision have exacerbated trade tensions between the United States and other major auto-producing nations such as France, Germany, South Korea and Japan. European leaders, in particular, have publicly expressed their concerns with President Joe Biden that the tax credit and other IRA provisions that subsidize clean energy in the US could spell the end of European industry as investment is diverted to the US . Congressional legislators have been shamelessclaiming that they crafted the law to boost jobs and production of electric vehicles in the United States.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said he did not expect the latest communication from the Treasury Department to end the case.

“We are committed to continuing to understand the concerns of our partners, including through the US-EU Working Group on the Cut Inflation Act, chaired by senior officials from the White House and the European Commission, and through bilateral channels with our other partners, including the Republic of Korea and Japan. These are regular conversations and we expect the conversations to continue,” the NSC spokesperson said.

Treasury published a preliminary list whose vehicles are eligible for the credit on Thursday, and expects it to increase in the coming days as they hear from more manufacturers. It might still be shorter than the car list the Department of Energy previously said are eligible for credit.

However, Congress also created a separate tax credit for clean commercial vehicles which is not as strict as that which applies to new car sales to consumers and which could provide opportunities for foreign manufacturers through dealerships that lease cars to consumers.

The Treasury has also published responses to a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” on the new tax credit to help manufacturers and consumers sort through the complexities. Neither the EU nor Autos Drive America, a group representing foreign-brand makers, immediately responded to a request for comment on Thursday.

Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.V.), who played a key role in crafting the final version of the tax credits Biden signed into law, criticized the Treasury Department’s decision and urged officials to halt implementation. . The Treasury’s interpretation “bends to the desires of companies looking for loopholes and is clearly inconsistent with the intent of the law,” he said.

Why countries are concerned: The Cut Inflation Act, which Biden signed into law on August 16, immediately required electric vehicles to be assembled in North America to qualify for the $7,500 consumption tax credit.

Previously, electric vehicles assembled outside of North America could qualify for the credit, although each automaker was limited to a cap of 200,000 vehicles before hitting the maximum.

The new North American assembly requirement has eliminated many foreign-made electric vehicles that were previously qualified, angering the EU, Japan and South Korea and raising the prospect of a legal challenge before the World Trade Organization.

The EU, home to major automakers like Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, fears the electric vehicle tax credit could divert investment from Europe to the United States. However, South Korea has an opposite concern.

Its largest automaker, Hyundai, has already announced plans to build a $5.5 billion electric vehicle facility in Georgia that won’t become operational until 2025.

The South Korean automaker has asked the Treasury for a grace period so it can continue importing credit-eligible cars until the Georgian plant starts production. However, the Treasury white paper does not address this issue, potentially leaving the automaker out in the cold. A Hyundai spokesperson said the company is still reviewing the latest Treasury filings.

Important Battery Provisions: Guidance released on Thursday gives foreign producers of electric vehicle batteries more hope. The IRA introduced separate requirements from January 1 for critical minerals and other battery components that Congress intended to stimulate further production in the United States. An additional provision that would come into effect in 2024 would also prevent cars containing materials and parts from China from being eligible for the tax credit.

To qualify for a portion of the tax credit, 40% of the value of critical battery minerals must be mined or processed in the United States or any country with which the United States has a free trade agreement . This level increases to 80% by 2027. Critical minerals could also be recycled in North America to qualify.

The United States currently has formal free trade agreements with 20 countries, including Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and other countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. .

The Treasury noted that the term “free trade agreement” is not defined in the IRA or any other law, allowing the department to come up with its own definition. This could potentially expand the group of countries eligible for the tax credit, including the European Union which does not have a formal trade agreement with the United States.

The Treasury said it would identify a list of criteria for what qualifies as a free trade agreement with the United States in a notice of proposed rulemaking it plans to issue in March.

The Treasury and the IRS also “expect to propose that the Secretary may identify other free trade agreements for purposes of the critical minerals requirement in the future and will assess any newly negotiated agreement for proposed inclusion. while waiting for the rulemaking process or inclusion after the rulemaking is finalized.

To qualify for the other part of the tax credit, at least 50% of the vehicle’s battery components must be manufactured or assembled in North America, beginning in 2023. This requirement will increase to 100% by 2029 .

The IRA did not provide any leeway for components manufactured or assembled in free trade agreement countries, as was the requirement for critical mineral content.

Commercial vehicle tax credits: Taxpayers who buy electric vehicles or other clean vehicles for their commercial activities can also claim a separate tax credit whose criteria are less strict than those applicable to cars sold directly to consumers.

This could potentially provide a significant market for foreign manufacturers who want to work with dealerships to lease electric vehicles in the United States. However, companies must ensure that the lease does not contain terms that would cause the IRS to reclassify it as a sale, the Treasury said.

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