Business

Trump aide's claims on lowers CSeries tariffs 'offer no comfort to Bombardier workers in Belfast'

Claims on Bombardier tariffs by US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross have been lambasted by the Unite union

CLAIMS by Donald Trump's commerce secretary Wilbur Ross that crippling 300 per cent import tariffs on Bombardier's C-Series jet could yet be revised down following Airbus taking a majority stage in the company "offer no comfort whatsoever" to thousands of aircraft workers in Belfast, the Unite union has insisted.

And he's been challenged to break off from his five-day visit to London to come meet employees and their representatives at Shorts and give assurances to the 4,000 direct employees and 20,000 workers in the supply chain whose jobs are sustained by Bombardier activities.

Mr Ross - who has separately become embroiled in the so-called Paradise Papers scandal because of his alleged business links to Russian figures who are currently under US sanctions - has held out the prospect that Airbus's acquisition of a 50.1 per cent stake in the CSeries programme could have an impact on US tariffs on the plane which threaten local jobs.

Airbus is hoping to persuade the US authorities to relax the tariffs by assembling jets destined for US customers at its own factory in Alabama.

The whopping import levies were imposed by US commerce officials after an anti-dumping complaint from Boeing, which argued that Canadian and UK state subsidies were being used to allow the CSeries aircraft to be sold into the American market at absurdly low prices.

Mr Ross insisted that the decision-making process in the US was "fair and open" and that there was still scope for the preliminary ruling to be altered in an upcoming final determination, adding that the US authorities will "take into consideration" any relevant change in circumstances which has taken place since the initial ruling in September.

He added: "We as yet don't know much about the proposed transaction between Bombardier and Airbus as they have yet to execute a definitive agreement, so it would be premature to suggest what, if any, impact it might have on the original preliminary ruling.

"Our rulings have only been preliminary and while, in the normal course, the final determination generally is pretty consistent with the preliminary one, that is not always true."

He pointed to a recent case involving the US and Thailand, in which the final determination "totally abolished" an adverse preliminary ruling.

"This is a fair and open process. It's an open-minded one," said Mr Ross.

"To the degree that we learn that any of the premises in the original ruling were wrong or have been modified, we would take that into consideration."

He rejected suggestions that the Trump administration's handling of the C-Series case was a foretaste of the hard-nosed bargain Britain could expect from the free trade agreement (FTA) it wants to strike with the US following Brexit.

"Even countries with whom we are very friendly, as we are with the UK, and countries like Canada and Mexico with whom we have an existing FTA, you do have occasional disputes, because even friends and FTA partners need to go by the rules," he said.

"The question is 'Was the conduct between the governments, Bombardier and Shorts within acceptable standards or not?' If it wasn't, then it should be actionable. If it was, then it shouldn't be."

But Unite have slammed the possible olive branch, with the union's regional coordinating officer Davy Thompson insisting his words "offer nothing".

He said: “He has simply reiterated that the US International Trade Commission and Department of Commerce will consider any changes in circumstances when finalising its proposals for a 300 per cent tariff on Bombardier's CSeries aircraft.

“That is a routine statement offering no comfort whatsoever to the Bombardier workers and supply chain.

“Boeing's case against Bombardier is entirely unmerited. What's needed is for the US government to rescind the punitive tariffs on the CSeries entirely.

"They are designed to effectively shut the US market, the largest commercial airlines market in the world, to Bombardier's ground-breaking CSeries planes."

Mr Thompon added: “If Wilbur Ross is genuine in his concern for Northern Ireland workers he should make the time available to meet with their representatives in the course of the next five days. We are ready to meet with him at his convenience.”

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