US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said he was hopeful the US government would not need to introduce any new automotive import tariffs at the end of this month following a series of encouraging meetings with global carmakers.

In an interview in Thailand during his trip to Asia last week aired on Bloomberg Television, Ross said: "We've had very good conversations with our European friends, with our Japanese friends, with our Korean friends.

"Our hope is that the negotiations we've had with individual companies about their capital investment plans will bear fruit [so] that it may not be necessary to put Section 232 into full effect.

"It may not even be necessary to put it partly into effect," he added.

Ross was referring to the US government's investigation under Section 232 of a 1962 trade law. Section 232 allows any interested party, including department and agency heads, to request an investigation by the Department of Commerce (Commerce) to determine the effect of specific imports on US national security. 

The news will come as a relief to EU carmakers  which are the single largest car group exporting to the US.

The EU has yet to reach an agreement with the US on this issue, partly due to the EU's refusal to include agricultural products, but maintained its vehicles do not pose a threat to US national security and had threatened retaliatory measures if tariffs were imposed.

The US has already imposed import tariffs on EU steel and aluminum on national security grounds.

In May the US government agreed to delay new tariffs on imported vehicles and parts for six months while negotiations took place with the EU and Japan.

In September it reached a trade agreement with Japan averting the need to impose of tariffs. In a joint statement, the governments of Japan and the US said they would "refrain from taking measures against the spirit of these agreements" - including any additional import tariffs.

The US and South Korea renegotiated the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) last year meaning there was no need for any tariff increases on South Korean imports.

European carmakers have stepped up US investments including Volkswagen which, in January, pledged to spend US$800m to build an electric vehicle plant in Tennessee.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz have both lifted spending in the US in recent years to keep up with rising global demand.

BMW in fact claims to be the exporter of vehicles from the US, with around 70% of its South Carolina output shipped to overseas markets including China.

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