Trump singles out Elon Musk's support for tariffs

Elon Musk & tariffs

Hours after Elon Musk posted a series of tweets about global trade and President Trump's tariff plan, Mr. Trump specifically called out Musk's support at the tariff signing at the White House Thursday. Musk tweeted at Mr. Trump earlier Thursday that he is "against import duties in general, but the current rules make things very difficult. It's like competing in an Olympic race wearing lead shoes."

"I saw a tweet from Elon Musk, who is using our space facilities and did a great job," Mr. Trump said at the signing ceremony. 

Musk specifically called out imbalances in trade with China, writing that China puts a 25 percent import on cars from the U.S. while the U.S. has only a 2.5 percent import duty on cars from China. 

Mr. Trump cited the exact same statistics, and said "they've know it for years and never did anything about it. Has to be changed."

Musk's electric car company, Telsa, has long has China in its sights. Tesla began selling cars in China in 2014 and sold $1 billion worth of cars to the country in 2016, despite the 25 percent import tariff, helping earn it a spot on the Fortune 500. But to get around the high tariff, Tesla has indicated support for opening a factory in China -- although Musk has resisted partnering with local manufacturers like other car companies do. China is the largest growth market for the U.S. auto industry. 

Musk also tweeted that "no U.S. auto company is allowed to own "50 percent of their own factory in China, but there are five 100 percent China-owned EV [electric vehicle] auto companies in the U.S."  

Musk noted on Twitter that his company has "raised this with the prior administration and nothing happened." 

Musk has had an up-and-down relationship with the Trump administration. He served on two of the president's business advisory councils and stayed involved even when some protested in the wake of the travel ban announcement last year. However, after Mr. Trump decided to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, Musk resigned from the councils.

Additionally, Musk's other company, SpaceX, has a number of lucrative government contracts. Mr. Trump has praised SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches, saying earlier Thursday "I don't know if you saw last with Elon — with the rocket boosters where they're coming back down."

"To me, that was more amazing than watching the rocket go up because I've never seen that before," Mr. Trump said. "Nobody has seen it before, where they're saving the boosters. They came back without wings or without anything, they landed so beautifully."

Mr. Trump on Thursday signed tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports, which will go into effect in 15 days, with exemptions for Canada and Mexico. The tariff decision is not without controversy -- more than 100 Republicans in Congress opposed the plan, and the president's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, announced his resignation earlier this week after the tariffs were announced. 

Musk told the Verge ahead of Mr. Trump's announcement, but after tweeting at him, that "it is better if all countries lower tariffs."