UPDATE: GM, UAW spar over imports and plant closures

DETROIT (AP) — Critical concession talks between General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers are being overshadowed by a public spat about the automaker's plans to import vehicles from other countries while it closes 16 U.S. factories.

The fight, which began last week, continues with less than two weeks left before a June 1 deadline for GM and the union to reach a deal on concessions that are a critical part of the automaker's government-ordered restructuring.

If GM can't reach deals with the union, debtholders and other stakeholders by the deadline, the century-old Detroit automaker will be forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. GM has received $15.4 billion in government loans.

The union sent an e-mail to members Sunday night asking them to call or e-mail President Barack Obama to protest the imports and factory closures. The company has not identified which factories it will shutter and says it is negotiating the details with the union.

"The UAW strongly objects to GM's plan to close 16 manufacturing facilities in the United States, while at the same time dramatically increasing the number of vehicles it will be importing from Mexico, Korea, Japan and China for sale in this country," the e-mail said.

It said GM wants to nearly double the number of imports from those countries, costing 21,000 UAW jobs in the U.S.

GM acknowledged in documents submitted to Congress that it plans to start importing small cars from China starting in 2011, with the number rising to more than 51,000 by 2014. But the company says the percentage of cars made and sold in the U.S. will remain stable, with fewer imports likely from Canada.

Industry analysts say GM needs to import small cars from countries with lower labor costs to remain competitive. Because the market for subcompacts in the U.S. is somewhat iffy, it makes sense to import them from China to fully use factories there, the analysts said.

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