Bombardier workers in North wait on US tariff ruling

US International Trade Commission expected to publish decision this week

Bombardier workers in Belfast at a rally  against proposed new US import tariffs on Bombardier’s CSeries jets. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Bombardier workers in Belfast at a rally against proposed new US import tariffs on Bombardier’s CSeries jets. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Thousands of Bombardier employees in the North face an anxious wait this week to hear if a powerful US federal agency will give a green light to proposed new US import tariffs on Bombardier’s CSeries jets – a move which trade unions have warned could jeopardise jobs in the North.

The US International Trade Commission (ITC) is expected to publish a decision on Thursday following a long-running investigation sparked by allegations by Boeing that Bombardier had violated US trade laws by doing a deal with Delta Airlines in 2016 to sell the airline 75 CSeries jets below market value.

Bombardier has consistently rejected Chicago-headquartered Boeing’s claims, but the US department of commerce, which also investigated the issue, has already sided with Boeing, and wants to apply new trade tariffs of nearly 300 per cent on every CSeries jet sold in the US.

Bombardier’s Belfast plant manufactures the wings for the CSeries family of aircraft, and the Canadian group has previously stressed that the aircraft programme is “critical to the long-term future” of its entire Northern Ireland operation.

The ITC has the power to either enforce or dismiss the commerce department’s proposed trade tariffs, but a senior UK minister has already disclosed that the British government does not expect the decision to be in Bombardier’s favour.

Arguments

Last week, in advance of its decision, the ITC published a 278-page staff report setting out all of the arguments, submissions and information it has received and compiled in relation to the Boeing and Bombardier dispute.

On Wednesday Bombardier also provided a further update to the ITC on its plans to develop, with its CSeries partner Airbus, a new final assembly facility for the aircraft in Mobile, Alabama, which they argue would mean that the CSeries could be produced on US soil for American customers and therefore potentially avoid any US import tariffs.

The Canadian group and Airbus said they were moving “posthaste, obtaining regulatory approvals, conducting site visits and planning, consistent with antitrust law for the operation of the US final assembly line”.

The primary assembly line and the CSeries aircraft programme are set to remain headquartered in Mirabel, Québec.

But Bombardier said planning for the new US assembly line was “at an advanced stage”, and it was “well positioned to efficiently replicate the Mirabel assembly line in Alabama”.

Five sites

In Northern Ireland union leaders are closely watching Bombardier’s moves – and not just because of the threat the CSeries issues pose to its five sites in the North.

The Unite trade union has warned that if the new US tariffs are introduced Bombardier’s Northern Ireland workers could end up as the “collateral damage” in a trade war.

Jackie Pollock, the Unite regional secretary, said: “If these brutal tariffs are upheld there’s no question but that it represents a serious threat to the very existence of Bombardier in Northern Ireland.”