Beef versus bikes: Proposed U.S. tariff threatens to hurt European motorcycle manufacturers

Vespa scooter
Smaller-sized motorcycles, like this 300cc Vespa scooter, could be taxed heavily under a new tariff proposed by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.
(Piaggio Group)

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has proposed applying a massive tariff on small- and medium-size motorcycles imported to the U.S. from Europe, which the American Motorcyclist Assn. said could endanger bike makers abroad and retailers at home.

The proposed tax, which has been characterized as retaliation against European laws limiting imports of American beef, would levy a 100% tax on European Union motorcycles with engines between 50cc and 500cc.

But it’s not part of the Trump administration’s “America First” campaign against trade pacts. A similar proposal to tax small EU motorcycles in 2008 died after vocal motorcyclist resistance.

The import duty would affect bikes made by BMW, KTM, Vespa, Aprilia, Husqvarna, Piaggio and others, especially off-road bikes and scooters.


Notably, the tariff applies to relatively few motorcycles because most European imports from manufacturers like BMW, Ducati and Moto Guzzi are larger than 500cc.

And the affected European manufacturers don’t compete directly with American motorcycle manufacturers. Large U.S. companies like Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle don’t make small-size motorcycles.

The tariff, if passed, would not apply to Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, who supply the bulk of small-engine motorcycles to the U.S. market.

But the American Motorcyclist Assn. suggests that the retaliatory tax could have long-term implications for U.S. companies just the same.


“Should the availability of motorcycles be hindered by these unjustified trade sanctions, dealerships may close, leaving countless Americans without jobs,” Wayne Allard, AMA vice president of government relations, said in a statement. 

“It’s not just the bikes — it’s also the bike dealers, and sales of apparel, and sales of parts,” AMA spokesman Pete terHorst added.

It’s not just the bikes — it’s also the bike dealers, and sales of apparel, and sales of parts.
AMA spokesman Pete terHorst

Also, a lot of young people start motorcycling on small-size bikes made by companies like KTM — a large presence on the U.S. off-road bike world — and later graduate to bigger, on-road bikes.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has announced a request for comments concerning unspecified actions against EU restrictions on beef, prior to a proposed Feb. 15 hearing on the topic, but did not reply to requests for comment.

Representatives for KTM, BMW and Piaggio declined to comment.

But the AMA had plenty to say  and called upon members to contact the trade office immediately.

“If the agency enacts this motorcycle tariff, serious and potentially irreversible harm will be done to American small- and medium-sized business owners selling the vehicles and to American families who buy these motorcycles for commuting and outdoor recreation,” the rider lobbying group told its members. “Tell the agency you oppose penalizing motorcyclists in a beef trade dispute.”





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