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Trudeau, May set for talks on Bombardier-Boeing spat

September 12, 2017 8:32 PM
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A new ally has emerged for aerospace giant Bombardier Inc. in its trade dispute with U.S. competitor Boeing Co.: British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Ms. May will visit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada next week to discuss several urgent issues, including Bombardier's fight with Boeing Co. The bilateral meeting is expected to take place on Sept. 18, a source with knowledge of the situation told The Globe and Mail in St. John's, where Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet are holding a two-day meeting.

Although a number of matters are of interest to both countries, the dispute between Boeing and Bombardier is certain to be a priority when the two prime ministers meet face-to-face, the source said.

In April, Boeing petitioned the U.S. Commerce Department to investigate its complaint that the Canadian and Quebec governments unfairly subsidize Bombardier's C Series planes.

Ms. May raised her concern for the Canadian plane manufacturer with U.S. President Donald Trump in a phone call last week, her office told The Globe and Mail.

Bombardier manufactures wings for the passenger jet series in Belfast in Northern Ireland and employs 4,500 people there, prompting Ms. May's concern over the dispute. The British government has spent the past few months extensively lobbying Boeing to drop or settle the complaint, and has held dozens of meetings and phone calls on the matter with both plane manufacturers and the U.S. and Canadian governments.

The British government is worried the trade dispute will imperil jobs. Bombardier's Belfast facility accounts for nearly 10 per cent of Northern Ireland's manufacturing employment and about 5 per cent of all jobs in Belfast.

In September alone, Britain's Secretary of Business, Greg Clark, has discussed the matter with three Boeing executives, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Bombardier chair Pierre Beaudoin, his department said.

"This is a commercial matter, but the U.K. government is working tirelessly to safeguard Bombardier's operations and its highly skilled workers in Belfast," a British government spokesperson said by e-mail.

"Ministers across government have engaged swiftly and extensively with Boeing, Bombardier, the U.S. and Canadian governments. Our priority is to encourage Boeing to drop its case and seek a negotiated settlement with Bombardier."

The Canadian plane maker said it was thankful the U.K. government "understands what is at stake and will take the actions necessary to respond to this direct attack on its aerospace industry," a Bombardier spokesperson said in an e-mail. "Boeing's petition is an unfounded assault on airlines, the travelling public and further innovation in aerospace."

Boeing reiterated on Tuesday that it believes Bombardier sells its products in the United States at below cost, saying it would let the investigation continue and not drop the complaint.

"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," a spokesperson said.

Fresh supporters for the Canadian plane maker have lined up in recent weeks.

Major U.S. carrier Delta Air Lines Inc. came to Bombardier's defence earlier this year, arguing that Boeing's complaint was for too broad a range of aircraft sizes. Last year, Delta ordered 75 109-seat CS100 planes from Bombardier. U.S. filings show the airline wants the anti-dumping investigation narrowed to the 125- to 150-seat range, which would include Boeing's 737 MAX planes and Bombardier's CS300 aircraft.

Two other U.S. carriers, Spirit Airlines Inc. and Sun Country Airlines, have joined the fray, calling for Bombardier's right to sell aircraft in the country.

The manufacturer remains confident in the contested range of plane sizes despite the dispute. In its latest market forecast for 60- to 150-seat aircraft released on Tuesday morning, Bombardier said the seat segment will be "a catalyst to further growth, market penetration and airline profitability."

The International Association of Machinists is planning to protest Boeing's trade complaints in Montreal on Wednesday with a march to the city's U.S. consulate. "Boeing did not even bid on the Delta contract and the C-Series poses no threat to Boeing's 737 because it's not in the same size class," the association's Quebec co-ordinator Dave Chartrand said in a statement.

"Our members will be out there to protect their jobs and defend the aerospace industry in Canada," Mr. Chartrand continued. "In the context of the NAFTA talks under way, we must protect this industry and the livelihood of our members in Montreal and across the country."

Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the Canadian union that represents workers at Bombardier's Toronto plant and at other companies in the aerospace sector in Canada, met with Boeing officials in Washington on Tuesday to join the chorus of people urging the U.S. aerospace giant to stand down.

"This ongoing dispute continues to put thousands of jobs at risk," Mr. Dias said in a statement.

A decision from the U.S. Commerce Department on the anti-dumping investigation is expected on Sept. 25.

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