US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — US President Donald Trump accused motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson on Tuesday of using the trade war as an excuse to move production for European customers overseas.

"Early this year Harley-Davidson said they would move much of their plant operations in Kansas City to Thailand. That was long before Tariffs were announced. Hence, they were just using Tariffs/Trade War as an excuse," Trump said on Twitter.

However, the company said it decided to build the Thailand plant after Trump pulled out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have lowered import tariffs on its bikes in some of the fastest-growing motorcycle markets in Asia.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said Harley-Davidson’s EU move was a natural consequence of a protectionist US trade policy.

"We don’t want to punish, but that is the unfortunate consequence, that (US companies) will put pressure on the American administration to say hey, hold on a minute, this is not good for the American economy," Malmstrom said.

The European countermeasures to Trump’s 25% tariff on steel and 10% on aluminium did not specifically target companies, but some sectors were chosen by Brussels for their symbolism.

In the early days of his administration Trump embraced Harley-Davidson, which sells about 40,000 motorcycles a year in Europe, as an emblematic US industrial firm.

"Surprised that Harley-Davidson, of all companies, would be the first to wave the White Flag," the president tweeted on Monday.

Trump has also threatened fresh tariffs on European vehicle imports, which would especially punish Germany, home of Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler.

Reuters and AFP