Belfast Telegraph

UK government blasted for 'not coming at full force' in Bombardier dispute

By John Mulgrew

The UK government has been been blasted as “not coming at full force” in an international trade row which threatens thousands of Bombardier workers in Northern Ireland after it was revealed a key submission to back the case was just four pages long.

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In a BBC Spotlight programme on Wednesday, it was revealed that Westminster submitted four pages worth of a case to the US International Trade Commission (ITC) in Bombardier's dispute with Boeing.

That contrasted with 800 pages from Bombardier, and around 170 from its native Canadian government.

The government also told US authorities it did not consider itself a "legally proper party" to the Bombardier trade dispute with Boeing.

Bombardier is locked in a trade tussle with Boeing, which claims it's selling its C Series passenger planes at below cost, and has been unfairly subsidised by Canada's regional government in Quebec.

The US Department of Commerce has since imposed a tariff of almost 300% on sales of the C Series to America.

It employs around 4,000 workers here.

Now, the ITC has pushed back its final determination to Friday afternoon, US time, “in light of the recent government shutdown”.

Greg Clark, UK Business Secretary, rejected claims that the government had not done enough to fight for Northern Ireland jobs at Bombardier, and said it was “quite the reverse”.

The Department said it submitted two written submissions to the ITC and requested the UK ambassador to the US gave an oral statement at the hearing.

Mr Clark said the government had submitted some 7,000 pages of documents to the US Department of Commerce to back its case. However, it is a separate body, which gave the initial ruling that a 292% tariff would be applied on the sale of Bombardier C Series planes to America.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said:

"The UK government has remained proactive from the outset of the Bombardier dispute, working with the Canadians to ensure all evidence provided is thorough and robust.

"This includes the UK submitting more than 7,000 pages of evidence to the US International Trade Administration and International Trade Commission.”

The BBC's Spotlight programme also said letters from the UK government to the ITC showed it had asked for “more time” in submitting its case.

And in one case, it said it experienced delays due to the annual Twelfth of July public holiday, with civil servants off work.

Labour MP, and shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Smith, accused the government of having “more concern with the optics” of trying to protect Northern Ireland jobs.

DUP MP for East Belfast, Gavin Robinson, said he wasn't aware of how many documents the government had supplied to the ITC to back its case for Bombardier, and Northern Ireland jobs.

And Ulster Bank economist, Richard Ramsey, said any major hit to Bombardier could “blow a hole” in Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector, many of which supply parts to Bombardier.

Jennifer Hillman, a former ITC commissioner and judge with the World Trade Organisation, told the programme it appeared the UK government was “not coming at full force”.

This week, Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said: "Hopefully we will see some common sense prevail from the US authorities. If they want to protect free competition and US jobs, then removing this ridiculous tariff is essential as jobs in the Bombardier supply chain across the US depend on this."

The Government has been accused of surrendering the fight over the trade dispute after it said it expected to lose the next stage of the battle.

And during a trade union rally attended by hundreds of workers at Bombardier’s east Belfast plant last week, Unite regional officer Susan Fitzgerald said that workers here “won’t be collateral damage in a trade war”.

Belfast Telegraph Digital