4,500 NI jobs in the balance as US rules against Bombardier

Decision to impose 220% tariff on sale of aircraft threatens Northern Ireland economy

A worker inspects a C Series aeroplane wing in the Bombardier factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

A worker inspects a C Series aeroplane wing in the Bombardier factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

 

The future of 4,500 workers at aircraft manufacturer Bombardier’s Belfast plant hangs in the balance after a punitive ruling against the company in the US overnight.

The US department of commerce backed a complaint by US aerospace giant Boeing that its Canadian rival had dumped below cost aircraft into the US market. In a preliminary report, it proposes imposing tariffs of almost 220 per cent on sales of the planes in the US, which would send the base price of each aircraft soaring.

Union bosses warned Wednesday that the preliminary determination was “unlikely” to be overturned by Mr Trump, who has been clear in his aim to fiercely protect American jobs — casting a shadow over the industry’s future in Northern Ireland.

Jimmy Kelly, the regional secretary of trade union Unite, said about 1,000 of Bombardier’s Northern Ireland workforce are directly employed in the CSeries programme.

“The decision in favour of Boeing’s allegations of anti-competitive pricing poses a direct and very serious threat to the 4,500 Bombardier jobs in Belfast and many more dependent on them across our service sector and in the wider supply chain,” he said.

“This would cause serious damage to our economy and to our society – which needs a robust economy to underpin our society’s continued political progress and the path to reconciliation.”

UK prime minister Theresa May spoke to both DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said May had expressed concern on separate phone calls about the implications of the ruling for jobs and livelihoods and the wider economy in Northern Ireland. She said UK government ministers would continue to engage intensively with Boeing, Bombardier, the Canadian government, the White House and others on the issue.

“They also discussed how while this was a preliminary judgment it was an uncertain and worrying time for the workers and their families at the Bombardier facility and how the UK government wanted to see a credible solution reached as quickly as possible.”

Ms Foster said the DUP would use its “influence with our government” in the current Bombardier crisis.

The preliminary ruling is not the end of the road for the Boeing and Bombardier’s trade dispute. Next month the US department will issue a second tariff ruling and then the US International Trade Commission has the power to either uphold or, if it finds that Boeing wasn’t injured by Bombardier’s jet programme, scrap the tariff decision next February.

Bombardier is one of the North’s largest private sector employers. It supports an extensive supplier network in Northern Ireland. There are at least 15 engineering firms directly engaged in the CSeries aircraft programme.

The planes in question are CSeries jet. Bombardier’s Belfast operation is responsible for the design and manufacture of all wings for the CSeries.

The case follows a deal signed in 2016 to supply Delta Airlines with up to 125 new jets from 2018.

Boeing’s complaint arose after Northern Ireland’s powersharing administration and the UK government pledged to invest almost £135 million in the establishment of the CSeries manufacturing site in Belfast. The programme also received $1 dollars from the Canadian provincial government in Quebec in 2015 when its fortunes appeared to be ailing.

In a statement, Delta said: “Boeing had the chance to compete with Bombardier for Delta’s purchase of aircraft in this size range, but Boeing’s only proposed alternative to the CS100 was to offer Delta used Brazilian-made regional jets.

“Boeing has no American-made product to offer because it cancelled production of its only aircraft in this size range – the 717 – more than 10 years ago.”

Speaking after the ruling was issued, US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross said: “The US values its relationships with Canada, but even our closest allies must play by the rules.

Mr Ross said the US government was “not necessarily” targeting Bombardier’s Northern Ireland factory but added that, “if you’re building wings for a plane that doesn’t get built, that’s a problem”.

Bombardier has repeatedly warned that Boeing’s claims threaten thousands of aerospace jobs around the world and it specifically underlined that its CSeries programme is “critical to the long-term future” of its Northern Ireland operations.

Additional reporting: Reuters/Bloomberg/Financial Times Limited 2017