The Death Of The TPP Means You Can Kiss Your Imported Small Truck Dreams Goodbye

Illustration for article titled The Death Of The TPP Means You Can Kiss Your Imported Small Truck Dreams Goodbye
Truck YeahThe trucks are good!

Let’s face it, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was doomed no matter who won the presidency. That lady, the orange guy who won, hell, even that other guy—they all pledged to get rid of the trade agreement. Sure, there’s a number of ways that our withdrawal from the TPP will affect the auto industry, but one of those ways is that the Chicken Tax is here to stay. And that’s a shame.


For those of you not into poultry or imported utility vehicles, some explanation of the Chicken Tax is probably in order. The Chicken Tax is a 1963 tariff placed on imported on potato starch, brandy, dextrose, and, yes, trucks. The reason for this 25 percent tax was to retaliate at (then West) Germany for putting a tariff on plump, juicy American chickens sold to Germany.

So, the reason we can’t get all those cool-looking utes and small trucks the rest of the world has—the Volkswagen Amarok, for example, or even the Ford Ranger sold abroad—is because if anyone tried to sell them here, they’d get hit with a 25 percent price markup, which just wouldn’t work for U.S. buyers.

Sure, for a while in the 1970s and 1980s there were some good loopholes, like sticking a pair of seats in the bed of a Subaru Brat and calling it a “passenger car,” but most of those loopholes were closed. Some loopholes still exist; that’s why Mercedes builds Sprinter vans in Europe, then takes them apart and ships them to a re-assembly plant in South Carolina, for example. For the most part, though, if you want to sell a truck in the U.S., you have to build it here.

Illustration for article titled The Death Of The TPP Means You Can Kiss Your Imported Small Truck Dreams Goodbye

What that’s done is made the U.S. truck market very risk-adverse and focused only on the trucks that make the most money: full-sized pickups. Any experimentation with more niche or limited-market vehicles, like, say, a non-huge pickup truck, just isn’t worth trying, financially, thanks in large part to the Chicken Tax.

The former head of Hyundai North America, who makes a variety of smaller trucks for the rest of the world, John Krafcik, described the situation like this:

“I think what is lost the most is low-volume experimentation and innovation in pickups. As soon as you get to that level of investment, the risks become so great that the solutions become fairly mainstream.”


The TPP was supposed to phase out the Chicken Tax over time, at least for the signatories of the treaty. That would have meant that European trucks like the VW Amarok would still be affected, but trucks from Japanese automakers would not. And, it wouldn’t have been fast—it would have been more of a gradual phase-out that would have taken over a decade.

Still, it was our best chance of having the Chicken Tax repealed, and now it’s definitely gone. If you were really hoping to get a brand-new Toyota Hilux this year, I’m afraid you’re either going to have to move or try and pull some legal shenanigans and hope for the best. Just register it as a 1979 Toyota.


Who’s going to know?

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!:


Bob Loblaw Made Me Make a Phoney Phone Call to Edward Rooney

I think it bears mentioning that there was plenty of bipartisan opposition to the TPP being thrown around during the election season, to the point that former Secretary Clinton had to walk back her staunch support of the TPP while she was SoS to a position of complete opposition.

Her official line is that she didn’t like the final “terms” of the deal, but the truth is that the wave of populism that Trump rode to victory was just as prevalent in the Democratic party, at least when it came to economic protectionism and isolationism, and support of the TPP was a nightmarish endorsement of Globalism for Clinton in a Democratic primary that devolved into a battle of populism.

tldr: Trump deserves all of the flak that he’s receiving right now, but don’t be fooled into thinking the rejection of the TPP is a Trump/GOP thing. The whole country was worked up into a jingoistic fervor over jobs and manufacturing during the election season, all of which is based on a misguided and outdated understanding of modern trade.