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Trump threatens Harley over move to Thailand

Harley bikes

US President Donald Trump denies that his trade policy is to blame for Harley-Davidson's decision to shift some motorcycle production overseas.

The company, which sold almost 40,000 motorcycles in Europe past year, said it planned to absorb those costs rather than pass them on to customers and risk damaging sales. The company blamed the move on the tit-for-tat tariffs that began with the Trump administration slapping a 25 percent tariff on steel and aluminum. He tweeted, "Harley must know that they won't be able to sell back into USA without paying a big tax!".

Trump reminded followers that Harley-Davidson wanted to move their plant operations to Thailand long before the tariffs were announced.

The action comes in response to tariffs the European Union imposed on US -made motorcycles.

In a series of tweets, Mr. Trump framed Harley-Davidson's announcement as a fake-out, claiming the company had already said it would shift manufacturing overseas and was "just using Tariffs/Trade War as an excuse". Moving production overseas, it said Monday, was "the only sustainable option to make its motorcycles accessible to customers in the European Union and maintain a viable business in Europe".

Outside the US, Harley-Davidson has manufacturing facilities in India, Brazil and Australia. The effect on Harley is staggering; duties have increased from 6% to 31%, which would raise the export cost of the average motorcycles by $2,200.

The Milwaukee-based company chose to build the Thailand plant a year ago after Mr. Trump pulled out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have lowered import tariffs on its bikes in some of the fastest-growing motorcycle markets in Asia.

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

"Governor Walker believes there should be no tariffs or trade barriers as the President stated earlier this month at the G7 summit", Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg said.

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More potential pitfalls for Harley-Davidson and other US manufacturers could be on the way.

In his series of tweets on Tuesday, Trump acknowledged that there is now a trade war breaking out and urged US corporations to show patience.

Harley-Davidson was already struggling to combat a dip in US demand by boosting sales overseas to 50% of total annual volume from about 43% now. The company did not respond to request for comment on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump after greeting Harley-Davidson executives on the South Lawn of the White House, February 2, 2017.

President Donald Trump has used Harley-Davidson as an example of a US business that is being harmed by trade barriers. Mr. Trump seemed to suggest this was a possibility, tweeting, "If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end". The Wisconsin Republican told reporters Tuesday he doesn't think tariffs "are the right way to go". And Harley-Davidson probably isn't the last company that will change its plans as a result - and thus not the last to catch the ire of the president.

But Trump's policies seem to have put Harley-Davidson in a particularly tough spot, for seven reasons.

United Steelworkers, which represents some Harley employees and has supported some of the president's tariff announcements, said it does not know yet how the company's decision will affect U.S. employment.

While Harley says it has a goal of creating 2 million new riders in the U.S.by 2027, it's also banking on boosting its global business to 50 percent of its annual sales volume, compared with 39 percent previous year.

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