Tesla’s operations in China could be getting a reprieve soon, after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that he would be cutting auto import taxes. During a speech at a business conference on Tuesday, Xi pledged to open China’s markets and improve conditions for foreign companies.
The new development came as the Chinese president was speaking at the Boao Forum for Asia on the Southern island of Hainan, according to a report from the Associated Press. Amid a trade dispute against the United States, Xi stated that China would be opening its doors wider. The president explicitly mentioned the auto industry in his speech, saying that China will be easing restrictions for foreign automakers.
“China’s door of opening up will not be closed and will only open wider. Beijing will significantly lower tariffs on auto imports this year and ease restrictions on foreign ownership in the auto industry as soon as possible,” Xi said.
China’s softened stance stands to benefit American automakers such as Tesla. Prior to Xi’s announcement, Tesla is operating in the country on a handicap, with its flagship vehicles — the Model S and the Model X — facing a steep 25% import tax, which causes the electric cars to be sold at higher prices than local competitors.
In a recent tweet, Tesla CEO Elon Musk described Xi’s announcement as a “very important action.”
This is a very important action by China. Avoiding a trade war will benefit all countries.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 10, 2018
Elon Musk addressed this issue in a series of tweets to US President Donald Trump last month, with the Tesla CEO stating that operating a car business in China is akin to playing an unfair game.
“No US auto company is allowed to own even 50% of their own factory in China, but there are five 100% China-owned EV auto companies in the US. I am against import duties in general, but the current rules make things very difficult. It’s like competing in an Olympic race wearing lead shoes,” Musk tweeted.
Xi’s promise of easing restrictions on foreign ownership also stands to benefit Tesla’s manufacturing capability. China, after all, is widely speculated to be the country where Tesla is planning to manufacture its upcoming crossover SUV — the Model Y — as well as some of the Model 3. So far, Tesla and local Chinese officials are reportedly disagreeing about the ownership of the planned factory. With the lighter restrictions in place, however, the company could tap into a formidable workforce that could help Tesla achieve its ambitious manufacturing goals.
Prior to Xi’s announcement on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump also adopted a less confrontational rhetoric against China. In a tweet on Sunday, Trump stated that he and Xi would be friends regardless of what happens in the ongoing trade dispute. Trump also said that there is “great future for both countries.”
Overall, the recent developments in the US-China trade dispute are encouraging overall, according to IHS Markit Senior Director and Asia-Pacific Chief Economist Rajiv Biswas. In a statement to the AP, Biswas noted that Xi’s recent speech could create a good platform to launch a dialogue between the two countries.
“President Xi’s speech could create a very good platform to launch U.S.-China dialogue at the WTO to find a deal on intellectual property rights that will address US concerns. This would be a victory for the world trading system and an important step away from the abyss of rising global protectionism,” he said.