Belfast Telegraph

Boeing not backing down in Bombardier trade dispute

American aircraft manufacturer Boeing is refusing to back down in a bitter aerospace trade dispute which could financially devastate one of Northern Ireland's biggest employers.

Prime Minister Theresa May has asked US President Trump to help broker a deal in the spat between Boeing and Canadian aerospace giant Bombardier.

Bombardier, which employs around 4,500 people in Belfast and accounts for 10% of the region's manufacturing exports, is facing significant costs in the dispute.

The fallout centres on Boeing's allegations that Bombardier received subsidies allowing it to sell its CSeries planes at below-market prices.

The US Department of Commerce is expected to announce a decision on whether to impose duties against Bombardier on September 25.

The UK Government has been actively lobbying in the US for a compromise between the two companies amid growing concern about the potential implications for Bombardier's Belfast operations.

Mrs May raised the matter with the US president in a phone call last week.

Business Secretary Greg Clark also recently travelled to Boeing's base in Chicago to discuss the potential impact of the dispute and Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been involved in negotiations.

However, despite the diplomatic efforts of the UK Government to get the case dropped and a compromise reached Boeing insisted on Tuesday it is going to "let the process play out".

The company said it is seeking "to restore a level playing field in the US single-aisle airplane market."

"Boeing had to take action as subsidised competition has hurt us now and will continue to hurt us for years to come," the company said in a statement.

"This is the normal course of action for addressing instances where a competitor is selling into the US market below cost, and we will let the process play out.

"We believe that global trade only works if everyone plays by the same rules of the road, and that's a principle that ultimately creates the greatest value for Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and our aerospace industry," the company added.

A UK Government spokesman said: "This is a commercial matter but the UK Government is working tirelessly to safeguard Bombardier's operations and its highly skilled workers in Belfast.

"Ministers across government have engaged swiftly and extensively with Boeing, Bombardier, the US and Canadian governments.

"Our priority is to encourage Boeing to drop its case and seek a negotiated settlement with Bombardier."

The fact Downing Street has become involved demonstrates the level of concern over the impact an adverse ruling by the US Department of Commerce against Bombardier could have on the future of the Northern Ireland factory.

Northern Ireland currently does not have its own functioning government. The Stormont Executive collapsed in January following a dispute between the two biggest parties, Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Months of talks between the parties have failed to resolve the political crisis.

Around 1,000 of Bombardier's Belfast employees are involved in the making of the CSeries wings at the centre of the US-Canadian trade dispute.

Boeing filed a petition with the US International Trade Commission and the US Department of Commerce in April, alleging that massive subsidies from the Canadian government have allowed Bombardier to embark "on an aggressive campaign to dump its CSeries aircraft in the United States".

Bombardier has rejected Boeing's claims. Bombardier said the plaintiff is a global powerhouse that has not lost any sales as a result of Bombardier.

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable accused Boeing and members of the Trump administration of "bullying" Bombardier and said the UK Government should retaliate by not buying aircraft or components from the US company.

"The UK Government must commit itself to standing very firmly behind Bombardier and its workers, and alongside the Canadian Government in resisting bullying from Boeing and its friends in the United States administration.

"We must make clear that we are prepared to retaliate by not buying aircraft or components from Boeing because this should work both ways," said Mr Cable.

The union Unite warned that Boeing's actions could threaten the future of the Bombardier site in Belfast.

Davy Thompson of Unite said the Prime Minister needs to phone the head of Boeing and direct them "to end their corporate bullying".

"The UK Government is the second largest purchaser of Boeing products. These present ample leverage to end this damaging course of action," he said.

Mr Thompson warned: "Bombardier is the largest private sector employer in Northern Ireland; these jobs are vital to our economy and sustain many times more in the wider supply chain in the UK and Ireland."

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