New 300% Bombardier tariff 'is bad news' for Northern Ireland jobs
The future of Bombardier's Northern Ireland operations looked shakier last night after US authorities threatened a crippling 300% import duty on its exports of aircraft to the US amid an international trade dispute with rivals Boeing.
Bombardier employs more than 4,000 people in Belfast and is due to begin delivering a blockbuster order for up to 125 new jets to Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines next year.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph he planned to raise the shock tariff blow in the House of Commons on Monday, pressing the UK Government to defend the jobs at stake in his constituency.
Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle also hit out at the US decision warning of a potential "massive impact" on Northern Ireland.
"Bombardier is the cornerstone of the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland, both as the largest employer and enabler of a wider engineering supply chain," he said.
"Any permanent negative ruling against it would have a massive impact on many livelihoods and the wider economy."
Top economist John Simpson described the latest development as very worrying.
"This is pretty serious bad news. It makes it all the more difficult for politicians from Northern Ireland and London to influence President Trump in a bid to get him to soften the blow for Belfast," he said.
Mr Simpson was doubtful that the UK or Canadian Government would be prepared to take effective countermeasures against Boeing activities.
"I don't think in the present circumstances that the UK Government will take action to penalise Boeing. I think they will make as strong a political argument as they can make that Belfast not be penalised. But I can't see the British Government doing anything that could be seen as going knock for knock with Boeing."
Bombardier was already facing a planned 220% tariff on its aircraft as part of a separate investigation, the US Department of Commerce confirmed, and last night it was revealed that a second preliminary levy of 80% has been proposed on sales of the Canadian aerospace manufacturer's aircraft to USA airlines.
US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said: "The United States is committed to free, fair and reciprocal trade with Canada, but this is not our idea of a properly functioning trading relationship.
"We will continue to verify the accuracy of this decision, while doing everything in our power to stand up for American companies and their workers."
A final ruling on the pricing policy is expected to be made in February 2018.
Ulster University senior economist Esmond Birnie said that the period to February is crucial.
"This is a window of opportunity for diplomacy between the three governments, in which sense may prevail," he said. "But if diplomacy fails, everybody ends up worse off."
Prime Minister Theresa May had lobbied President Trump over the dispute sparked by complaints from Boeing that Bombardier received unfair state subsidies from the UK and Canada, allowing the sale of airliners at below cost prices in the US.
Both trade unions and politicians have warned thousands of jobs could be in jeopardy - in the USA as well as in Belfast and Canada.
The US government preliminary decision affects imports of 100-150 aircraft from Canada.
The wings for the new aircraft, which are due to be delivered to the US next year, are made at Bombardier's plant in east Belfast.
The alleged unfair subsidy arose after Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration and the UK Government pledged to invest almost £135m in the establishment of the C-Series manufacturing site in Belfast.