June 22, 2017 / 3:00 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. trade representative says he is 'troubled' by Ford's China move

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer arrives at the National Convention Center in Hanoi to attend the APEC trade ministers' meeting May 20, 2017.Hoang Dinh Nam/Pool

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Thursday he would support taking action against U.S. automaker Ford's (F.N) decision to move some production to China if the shift was because of "non-economic reasons."

Lighthizer, who was appearing before a panel of U.S. senators, did not give details on the factors that could trigger action from the administration of President Donald Trump or what sort of action it might take.

But he made clear he was not enthused about Ford Motor Co's announcement earlier this week that it will move some production of its Focus small car to China and import the vehicles to the United States.

"I find that very troubling," Lighthizer said. "It doesn't necessarily make sense to me."

Ford's plan suggests China could play a much larger role in future vehicle production for North America, perhaps eclipsing Mexico as a low-cost manufacturing source.

The Ford logo is seen on a car in a park lot in Sao Paulo, Brazil June 2, 2017.Paulo Whitaker

"This is a business decision to improve profitability and deliver even better small cars to customers in a way that makes business sense," said Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker.

Felker said no U.S. hourly workers would lose their jobs as a result of Ford's decision.

Trump campaigned with promises to win better terms for U.S. workers in international trade, and has accused both China and Mexico of unfairly competing with U.S. industries. Automaker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) said separately on Thursday it was exploring the possibility of establishing a Chinese manufacturing plant.

Ford has said the production shift from Mexico to China, slated for mid-2019, is a purely financial move that will save the company $500 million in reduced tooling costs.

Lighthizer said he wanted to know more about the incentives for the move.

"If it happened for reasons that are non-economic reasons, then I think the administration should take action," he said.

Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir and Jason Lange; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum

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