NASHVILLE - Republican U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker on Thursday sharply criticized President Donald Trump's plan to impose new steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico, Canada and the European Union at midnight.
Alexander called the move a "big mistake" while Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Corker charged it "represents an abuse of authority intended only for national security."
Canada, Mexico and the EU quickly announced they intended to retaliate with their own tariffs against some U.S.-made products, which are expected to impact farmers and some businesses. Trump's tariffs were announced in March but were delayed until Thursday.
Volkswagen, which has its only U.S.-based auto assembly plant in Chattanooga, said the German manufacturer "notes with regret and concern" that U.S. is imposing a 25 percent tariff on imports of EU steel and 10 percent on aluminum.
"There are fears that this marks the start of a negative spiral of measures and countermeasures where there will ultimately be no winners," the Germany-based company said in a statement, then called for intensified "political dialog" between the countries within World Trade Organization trading principles.
"Any escalation is harmful to both sides," Volkswagen warned.
Alexander warned the tariffs will raise prices "and destroy manufacturing jobs, especially auto jobs, which are one third of all Tennessee manufacturing jobs. I have urged President Trump to focus on reciprocity - do for our country what our country does for you - instead of imposing tariffs, which are basically higher taxes on American consumers."
Corker weighed in, saying, "imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on our most important trading partners is the wrong approach and represents an abuse of authority intended only for national security purposes."
He added that "if we truly want to level the playing field for American companies, we should be working with our friends and allies to target those actually responsible for tipping markets in their favor."
In addition to Volkswagen, Nissan has an auto assembly plant in Smyrna. Nissan's North American headquarters is in Franklin. General Motors, meanwhile, has a plant in Spring Hill.
The assembly plants and various auto suppliers depend on a global supply chain for parts.
Tennessee now has more than 135,000 employees in the automotive industry, including suppliers, with 917 factories, blanketing 88 of the state's 95 counties, according to state Department of Economic and Community Development's website.
In 2016 along, workers here produced 832,600 cars, light trucks and SUVs, according to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. The department says that in 2016, the 832,800 vehicles made in Tennessee accounted for 6.7 percent of all U.S.-made cars, light trucks and SUVs.
Last year, Tennessee automotive exports hit $5.8 billion. Transportation equipment is the state's top export, accounting accounting for 22.8 percent of the state's total exports.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.