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Elon Musk Uses Twitter to Talk Tariffs, Cars, and China With Donald Trump

The platform is the pair's favorite.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk reached out to President Donald Trump on Thursday through Twitter—the pair’s favorite means of communication—to lobby for the U.S. and China to reach an agreement on equal and fair rules for cars. The tweets came as Trump prepared to make an announcement on tariffs for imported steel and aluminum.

Tesla makes its electric vehicles at a factory in Fremont, Calif. A growing number of its Model S and Model X vehicles are sold in China. Tesla was in talks for months with Shanghai’s government to build a factory there. And at one point, reports suggested a deal had been struck. But those negotiations have stalled because the two parties disagree on the ownership structure for a proposed factory, Bloomberg reported in February.

Without a factory—which in China typically requires foreign companies to take on a local partner—Tesla faces steep import taxes.

In a series of tweets, Musk addressed Trump in response to the president’s own Twitter message.

Musk replied directly to Trump.

Do you think the US & China should have equal & fair rules for cars? Meaning, same import duties, ownership constraints & other factors.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 8, 2018

Musk then continued with other messages directed at Trump.

For example, an American car going to China pays 25% import duty, but a Chinese car coming to the US only pays 2.5%, a tenfold difference

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 8, 2018

Also, 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

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 8, 2018

Musk never names these China-owned EV auto companies in the U.S., but he’s likely referring to startups like Faraday Future, Lucid Motors, SF Motors, and NIO. However, none of these companies actually have a commercial product that consumers can buy and drive right now.

The only Chinese-owned company that is selling cars to U.S. consumers today is Volvo, which was acquired more than seven years ago by Chinese carmaker Zhejiang Geely Holdings. Volvo Cars plans to produce vehicles at its first U.S. factory by the end of 2018. The 2.3-million-square-foot facility near Ridgeville, S.C. is expected to employ about 2,000 workers.

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.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 8, 2018

We raised this with the prior administration and nothing happened. Just want a fair outcome, ideally where tariffs/rules are equally moderate. Nothing more. Hope this does not seem unreasonable.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 8, 2018

No word on whether Trump responded to Musk via Twitter’s direct message feature. On Thursday afternoon, Trump signed two proclamations that implement tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, but exempt Canada and Mexico.