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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration has launched a national security investigation into car and truck imports that could lead to new U.S. tariffs similar to those imposed on imported steel and aluminum in March.

The national security probe under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 would investigate whether vehicle and parts imports were threatening the industry’s health and ability to research and develop new, advanced technologies, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

“There is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement, promising a “thorough, fair and transparent investigation.”

Higher tariffs could be particularly painful for Asian automakers including Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Co, Honda Motor Co and Hyundai, which count the United States as a key market, and the announcement sparked a broad sell-off in automakers’ shares across the region.[MKTS/GLOB]

The governments of Japan, China and South Korea said they would monitor the situation, while Beijing, which is increasingly eyeing the United States as a potential market for its cars, added that would defend its interests.

“China opposes the abuse of national security clauses, which will seriously damage multilateral trade systems and disrupt normal international trade order,” Gao Feng, spokesman at the Ministry of Commerce, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Thursday which focused largely on whether it is making any progress in its trade dispute with Washington.

“We will closely monitor the situation under the U.S. probe and fully evaluate the possible impact and resolutely defend our own legitimate interests.”

COURTING VOTERS

The probe comes as Trump courts voters in the U.S. industrial heartland ahead of mid-term elections later this year, and opens a new front in his

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currensceneFLOGO WHTsquareThough not the oldest form of currency, some form of shell money appears to have been found on almost every continent. The shell most widely used worldwide as currency was the shell of Cypraea moneta, the money cowry.

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