In keeping with the Chinese Year of the Mouse, the auto industry has found
itself running in a maze of wheeling, dealing and regulations.
China is currently facing defeat at the World Trade Organization
over its tax policies on imported auto parts.
The World Trade Organization on Thursday issued a preliminary
ruling in favor of the United States, European Union and Canada
saying China's tariffs on imported auto parts breaks its
commitments to the trade organization.
China has defended its policy saying it prevents car makers
evade tax by importing finished cars as spare parts to avoid high
Should China lose an appeal, it would be China's first loss at
the WTO since it joined in the global organization in 2001.
The WTO manoeuvring is being widely seen as an accelerated trade
conflict between China, as an emerging and fast developing auto
country, and overseas auto giants.
However, it is also being viewed as an illustration of foreign
car makers' attempts to win advantages during aggressive expansion
Even if China bows to the pressure and WTO principals and makes
legislative changes, most analysts agree that increasing sourcing
from China and leveraging efforts to use more Chinese-made auto
parts remains a key trend in the industry as all car makers battle
with heated competition and declining car prices in the world's
second largest auto market.
The crux of the complaint by the three western parties is that
China charges tax on some imported auto parts at the same rate as a
foreign-made finished vehicle.
They argued that such commercial practices would prevent foreign
car makers using imported spare parts for assembly in China and
force them to shift production to China, hurting their own auto
China taxes 25 percent on imported auto parts, the same tariff
rate on finished imported autos, if they account for 60 percent or
more of the value of a whole vehicle.
Other imported auto parts are taxed at 10 percent.
''The measure is not only intended to avoid tax evasion but also
to encourage Chinese auto parts makers to increase its own
innovation capability and competitiveness,'' said Zhou Shijian,
standing director of China Society for World Trade Organization
''If we didn't pose limitation on imported auto parts, Chinese
joint ventures would be purely spare parts importers and then the
assembly plants for overseas car makers.
''This would seriously sabotage the development of China's auto
Zhang Boshun, secretary-general of China Auto Industry
Association Market Trade Commission, said there were similar
regulations posed on machinery and auto industries in developing
''It didn't break the WTO principles,'' Zhang said.
''China must improve the competitiveness of its own auto parts
industry before realizing its target to make the auto industry
The dispute began in 2005 when China's new regulation on
imported auto parts took effect, changing previous local content
The new rules were originally intended to encourage foreign car
makers to locally produce car components in China.
However, the US and the EU complained.
In 2006, the EU and US filed the case with the WTO and were
later joined by Canada.
Amid negotiation, a key detailed standard was postponed by two
years to be effective starting from July this year.
Luxury car makers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac and Chrysler
suffered most under the regulation as their small-production scale
forced them to rely more on imported auto parts rather than
investment heavily in local plants.
General Motors Corp last year restarted the imports of some
Cadillac models instead of locally producing them due to the high
production cost brought on by importing spare parts.
According to statistics from China Customs, US$7.2 billion in
auto parts were imported in the first half of last year.
The import value of engines rose 16.43 percent to US$697 million
and imported transmissions soared 66 percent to US$1.4 billion.
The ongoing dispute has caused concerns that if China backs away
from its tough stance on the issue, more car makers would prefer to
import auto parts in large chunks rather than sourcing in
''This is not going to happen in the long term because Chinese
auto parts makers have made progressive achievement in improving
their technology,'' said the auto association's Zhang.
''For most overseas car makers, it would be a short cut to use
more price-competitive and good quality Chinese-made auto parts as
they seek a cushion to maintain profit margin amid declining car
prices and furious competition.''
An official from Zhejiang Wangxiang Holdings Group, one of
China's largest auto parts makers, said there would not be a
significant impact if China were forced to change the rule.
''Although we still have some technology shortage for supplying
advanced auto parts, there is a growing trend to shift the
production of core car components to China because of the low
production cost and improving technology,'' the official said.
While most car makers including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler
have kept their eyes on the issues, they have also added local
suppliers and enlarged their procurement in China over the past few
years to keep pace with their rapidly expanding production.
Other auto parts giants, including Delphi, Visteon and Bosch,
have followed car makers to start making low-cost auto parts in
(Shanghai Daily February 20, 2008)