With the news that General Motors (GM - Get Report) is planning to import Buick cars from China for sale in the U.S., a new chapter in trade tension between East and West could be unfolding. 

Envision is a new crossover designed mainly for Chinese motorists. 

Rumblings already can be heard from the United Auto Workers union about its critical view of the U.S. and of taxpayers financing the reorganization of GM after its 2009 bankruptcy -- evidently to the benefit of Chinese as well as U.S. auto workers. 

The opinions of Donald Trump and other presidential candidates about the relative merits and demerits of vehicles imported from China no doubt will be heard shortly. 

No one should be surprised or shocked by the importation of Chinese-made vehicles to the U.S. China boasts the largest automotive industry in the world, in terms of production and sales. Since the 1990s, when western automakers began establishing partnerships with Chinese automakers, it's been obvious this day would arrive. 

Volvo already exports a model, the S60, built in China to the U.S. Volvo, once a Swedish company, is now owned by a Chinese entrepreneur. And GM has earlier imported parts made in China, including engines. 

In the early days of modernization, China's leaders knew its people would want cars. They also realized the West would be thrilled to sell cars to Chinese consumers, while sharing automotive expertise only grudgingly. That's why partnerships were mandated, allowing GM and other automakers to build and sell vehicles locally as they transferred know-how. 

An important factor in this bargain with China was the protections against imported vehicles such as -- for example -- Buicks built in the U.S. Conditions obviously have changed. Will the U.S., which charges a 2.5% tariff on cars, begin to impose much higher taxes and duties as the Chinese do on U.S. cars imported to their country? 

During the 1980s and 1990s, as Detroit auto executives and politicians complained about Japanese auto imports, trade tensions between the two countries grew raw. During a time of economic turmoil in the U.S., Japan agreed to voluntary export restraints. Eventually Honda   (HMC - Get Report) and other Japanese exporters decided to manufacture cars in the U.S. 

The weak Japanese yen and the strong dollar made Honda and Toyota (TM - Get Report) models extremely competitive in the U.S. market, just as a weak Chinese yuan and the strong dollar could make Chinese-made Buicks competitive. 

Today, U.S. auto executives will concede that rivalry against Japanese automakers ultimately was healthy for the U.S. industry, helping (and forcing) Detroit to improve quality, reliability and almost every other vehicle metric. The tussle against Toyota, in particular, strengthened all sorts of U.S. enterprise. 

Arguments in favor of free trade are numerous and persuasive. Yet the U.S. also must do what it can to ensure that trade also is fair and negotiate hard to gain whatever advantages possible on behalf of local enterprise. 

But there's little point in denying that the Chinese automobile industry has earned its way into the spotlight and is ready for prime-time. There's no telling what unintended benefits may derive to the U.S. from its arrival. In the short-term, GM could profit as U.S. Buick dealers get a new midsize crossover to sell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, repeated Sunday at 9 a.m.

The writer has no financial interest in the aforementioned companies.