A Ford dealership. Picture: REUTERS
A Ford dealership. Picture: REUTERS

Beijing — Ford Motor’s imported vehicles are being held up at Chinese ports, three people with knowledge of the matter, underscoring how US goods are facing increased customs scrutiny in China amid a tense trade stand-off.

The three people said Ford cars and those of its premium Lincoln brand were facing unusual delays at customs, with officials asking for extra technical checks. Two of the people said US-made models of some German car makers, mainly SUVs, being brought into China, were also affected.

Ford was being asked to do extra checks on emission components, said a China-based Ford executive familiar with the matter, asking not be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

China’s customs agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The hold-ups add to a growing list of American products facing issues at China’s borders, as officials try to avert a full-blown trade war. Some trade experts said they believe Beijing is sending a defiant warning to Washington in response to sweeping US trade demands made on China last week.

China has ramped up inspections of pork shipped from the US, after the country’s customs agency said it would step up quarantine checks on American apples and logs.

The second person, a China-based industry official with knowledge of the matter, said the delays for Ford — as well as some US-made cars from BMW and Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz — had been going on for the last two weeks.

"Customs pretends there are technical nonconformities of some nature that won’t allow them to clear these US-made cars through customs, but the US-China trade frictions must be the background to this," he said. "Although no one will officially admit it."

Responding to a request for comment, a BMW spokesman said "US-made BMW cars have not been delayed at the ports as of last week and before."

A Daimler spokeswoman said it was "monitoring the situation closely" regarding ongoing trade talks between China and the US, but that she could not speculate further on other matters.

The third person said the Ford issue, which had been noted by the US government, and other delays facing American goods, were clearly related to the trade dispute.

A Ford spokeswoman in Shanghai, when asked about the matter, said: "We are closely monitoring our situation at the port."

She declined to comment further. Imported Ford cars normally enter China via the eastern ports of Shanghai and Tianjin, she said.

Japanese and German car makers said they were not facing similar delays at China customs with imported vehicles made outside the US.

It was not immediately clear if General Motors (GM) cars imported to China from the US were being impacted by the delays. GM plans to import a total of only about 150 vehicles to China from North America this year.

"Virtually all products we sell in China are built in China," said a Shanghai-based GM spokesperson.

US President Donald Trump has threatened tariffs on up to $150bn of Chinese goods. The US alleges that Beijing misappropriates US technology through joint-venture requirements, unfair licensing practices, outright theft and state-backed acquisitions of American technology firms. Beijing denies those accusations.

China’s top economic official, Liu He, will visit Washington next week to resume trade talks, the White House said Monday, after a US delegation led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came away from a visit to Beijing last week with no agreement over a long list of US trade demands.

China is the world’s largest vehicle market but has been the focus of criticism from Trump over a 25% import tariff and foreign ownership caps on local auto ventures. China has pledged to remove the ownership limits and lower import levies.