UK Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to protect jobs at Bombardier in Northern Ireland, after the US Department of Commerce proposed crippling tariffs of 220 percent on the import of the aerospace firm's C Series passenger jets.
The preliminary decision came after complaints by rival aerospace multinational Boeing, which argued Bombardier received unfair funding from the UK and Canada, allowing the sale of airliners in the US under cost price.
Announcing the regulator's preliminary findings September 26, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said "even our closest allies must play by the rules."
"The subsidization of goods by foreign governments is something that [we] take very seriously, and we will continue to evaluate and verify the accuracy of this preliminary determination," Ross added.
We strongly disagree with the Commerce Department’s preliminary decision. https://t.co/shwAAOkyRo?— Bombardier Inc. (@Bombardier) September 26, 2017
The magnitude of the proposed duty is absurd and divorced from reality. https://t.co/yVJvnmAw1J?— Bombardier Inc. (@Bombardier) September 26, 2017
If the tariff is ratified — which trade unions believe is likely, given Trump's stated protectionist inclinations — the implications for Bombardier and the economy of Northern Ireland could be shattering — over 4,000 are employed at the firm's Belfast manufacturing plant, and thousands more jobs in Northern Ireland are supported via Boeing's supply chain.
Really frustrating & disappointing decision. This must be challenged & will be fought at every stage — Bombardier a critical employer for NI https://t.co/VAxidxNNGV— E Little-Pengelly MP (@little_pengelly) September 26, 2017
In a statement sent to Sputnik, Ann McGregor, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, expressed "bitter disappointment" at the Department of Commerce's decision.
"The Canadian aerospace company is a major contributor to the Northern Ireland economy and the largest manufacturing employer in the region. A total of 1,000 work on the manufacture of wings for the new CSeries aircraft. It's imperative the British Government works to protect these vital jobs — the imposition of the tariffs could make Bombardier question remaining in Northern Ireland, where it has operations in four locations," Ms. McGregor said.
She also questioned Boeing's claims the subsidies received by the firm were "unfair" — "anyone in business knows competition, which exists in every field, is good for the market and should be welcomed."
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which the ruling Conservative government depend upon in key Commons votes, has repeatedly pressed May over the issue. For her part, the Prime Minister is said to have directly lobbied US President Donald Trump.
In a separate statement, Irish Congress of Trade Unions Assistant General Secretary Owen Reidy said the dispute could have a potentially "devastating impact" on workers.
"These are highly skilled decent jobs that must be protected. It's incumbent on the two largest parties in Northern Ireland to continue to work together on this issue and use whatever leverage they have to support the workers. There is a particular responsibility on the UK government to support the interests of these workers to ensure they do not become the victims of a battle between two large multinational corporations," Reidy explained.
In 2016, Bombardier signed a US$5.6 billion deal to provide 125 aircraft to Atlanta-based Delta Airlines in 2018. However, Boeing challenged the deal, saying the UK government's pledge to invest around US$181 million in the C-Series, and the Quebec regional government's injection of US$1 billion in 2015, amounted to effective state subsidy.