Washington (AP) - US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has designated punitive tariffs on car imports from Europe and Asia as avoidable. Talks with individual companies about their investment plans and negotiations with governments were going well, Ross told news channel Bloomberg TV.

The hope is that there will be enough progress to avoid punitive tariffs, he said on the sidelines of a Bangkok regional business meeting.

The US government has threatened Europe and Japan with imposing punitive tariffs on alleged threats to national security from high car imports. The step would be a significant escalation of the trade conflict with the EU and would hit German automakers in particular hard.

The US government suspended the threatened punitive tariffs for six months in May. It is necessary to decide on the extension again in mid-November. According to experts, the US government uses the punitive tariffs mainly as a threat to make concessions.

Even Washington wants to avoid a drastic escalation of the trade conflict with major economies a year before the US presidential election - especially as the trade war with China continues to seethe and slow down growth in both countries.

"We had very good conversations with our European friends, with our Japanese friends, with our Korean friends - and these are the biggest car producers," said Ross Bloomberg TV.

It was initially unclear whether the EU and Japan have made any concessions to Washington in terms of car exports so far. South Korea is protected from new punitive tariffs because of a new US trade agreement.