U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a congressional committee on June 22 that he is "sympathetic" to American motorcyclists, dealerships and others, but he cannot remove small-displacement European motorcycles from a proposed import tariff while negotiations continue in a dispute with the European Union over U.S. beef imports.
"While we appreciate Ambassador Lighthizer's sympathy, we need action, not sympathy," said Rob Dingman, president and CEO of the American Motorcyclist Association. "He has chosen the U.S. beef industry over American motorcyclists and Americans who own and operate motorcycle dealerships."
At issue is a proposed 100 percent tariff on 51cc to 500cc motorcycles imported to the United States from manufacturers in the European Union. The bikes are included in a long list of products that would be the subject of tariffs as part of the long-running dispute over U.S. beef imports.
A member of Lighthizer's staff stated publicly in February that motorcycles were placed on the list because officials hoped the outrage of motorcyclists and the motorcycle industry would provide leverage for the U.S. beef industry.
"The U.S. Trade Representative is toying with the livelihoods of American families whose businesses haven't fully recovered from the 2008 Great Recession," Dingman said. "These dealerships will go under if this tariff is enacted."
Lighthizer addressed the issue Thursday before the House Ways and Means Committee in response to a question from U. S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio). Lighthizer said that he had heard from motorcyclists and from the motorcycle industry.
"He says he heard us, but he is not listening," Dingman said. "The U.S. beef industry doesn't need this tariff as much as these American motorcycle dealers need to stay in business and their employees need to keep their jobs.
"None of the American dealerships, nor any of their employees, has any greater ability than the beef industry to get the European Union to buy more U.S. beef," Dingman continued. "Yet, the U.S. Trade Representative insists on playing chicken with the livelihoods of motorcycle dealers and the choices of American motorcyclists, while catering to the beef industry."
During the first week after Lighthizer was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, motorcyclists sent nearly 2,500 emails to his office demanding that motorcycles be removed from the tariff proposal. Dingman made the same demand in person at a USTR hearing in February and again in a letter to Lighthizer.
A substantial proportion of AMA membership includes riders who own and ride motorcycles of 500cc displacement or less, including trail bikes for youths and adults, enduro bikes, dual-sport motorcycles, entry-level street motorcycles, scooters and others.
The 500cc-or-smaller category of motorcycle also is used in a significant portion of the AMA's more than 3,000 sanctioned competition events enjoyed by hundreds of thousands annually. Many of those events are put on by promoters who are essentially small business owners who will be severely adversely affected by the proposed 100 percent tariff.
European makers of 51cc-399cc motorcycles used for racing provide nearly half the units available to U.S. consumers, and nearly a quarter of the market in the 400-500cc class.
In the on-road motorcycle segment, 100 percent of the models 300cc and smaller are imported to the United States from abroad.