An Overseas Kick-Start: Harley-Davidson Building Plant in Thailand

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HONG KONG — President Trump has held up Harley-Davidson as a pillar of American manufacturing.

“We’re proud of you! Made in America, Harley-Davidson,” Mr. Trump said to the company’s leather-clad top executives in February as five of its motorcycles rumbled on the White House lawn.

But even as he praised Harley-Davidson’s all-American credentials, the company was busily building a new plant — in Thailand.

Harley-Davidson, an icon of American style and know-how, serves as a strong example of the nuanced economic realities that are pushing American companies to lay off workers at home and set up new factories overseas. Unions representing its workers accuse the company of cutting American jobs to hire lower-paid foreign workers. Yet global trade barriers and proximity to a growing base of new customers also play roles, complexities inherent in Mr. Trump’s ambition to overhaul trade policy.

Motorcycles made in the new factory — plans for which had not been previously disclosed — will be sold in Asia, not the United States, which its domestic plants will continue to serve, Harley-Davidson said.

. . .

But the month before, citing its potential impact on American workers, Mr. Trump killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that would have slashed the tariffs Harley-Davidson faced in Vietnam and Malaysia to zero. The company had been a supporter of what would have been the 12-nation pact.

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