US auto tariff decision delayed by NAFTA talks: Ross

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has come under fire for saying he doesn't understand why some federal workers who are not getting paid during the government shutdown are using food banks

The United States is holding off on a final decision on whether to impose tariffs on auto imports as trade talks with Mexico, Canada and Europe are ongoing, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Monday, he said it is "not clear the report will be out at the end of the month ... in view of the negotiations" to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Washington also is in talks with the European Union after President Donald Trump reached an agreement with EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker in late July to avoid the auto tariffs in exchange for a new deal on duty free trade between the two economies.

Citing national security concerns, Trump in May had ordered Commerce to investigate the possibility of imposing tariffs of up to 25 percent on foreign autos and auto parts, a prospect that alarmed the industry.

The department collected over 2,000 written comments from diverse industry representatives and car enthusiasts calling on the administration to scrap the tariff plan, and dozens more testified at a public hearing in late July.

Ross told the Wall Street Journal the volume of comments also is a factor delaying the final report, saying the department received "zillions of pages" from car companies and "We're running out of August."

Despite the administration's rush to impose tariffs in other cases, including against China, Ross declined to set a new deadline for releasing the findings on the auto sector, saying the department is not required to issue its report until next year.

Trump also invoked national security concerns when he imposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, angering key allies and prompting retaliation against US products like soybeans and motorcycles.

The US imported $212 billion in autos last year, $151 billion more than it exported, a deficit that has risen 29 percent since 2013, according to Commerce Department figures.

Autos are a key sticking point in negotiations to revamp the nearly 25-year-old NAFTA, and Mexico's Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo is due to arrive in Washington later Tuesday to continue efforts to reach an agreement.

He said last week he was hopeful officials would be able to wrap up the issues affecting Mexico this week, after which Canada would rejoin the talks.