WTO: EU can slap tariffs on RM17b in US goods over Boeing aid

GENEVA • The World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled on Tuesday that the European Union (EU) could impose tariffs worth US$4 billion (RM16.6 billion) on US imports in retaliation for illegal American aid to planemaker Boeing Co, a year after the EU was sanctioned for its support of Airbus SE.

The decision was the latest development in a 16-year saga between Washington and Brussels over support for their leading civil aircraft manufacturers.

The WTO determined that the amount was “commensurate with the degree and nature of the adverse effects determined to exist” from US support for Boeing considered to be in violation of international trade rules, according to the 121-page arbitrator’s report.

According to a list of targets seen by AFP, the EU is expected to impose tariffs on aircraft made in the US, along with tractors, sweet potatoes, peanuts, frozen orange juice, tobacco, ketchup and Pacific salmon.

The EU’s top trade official signalled a preference for avoiding new tariffs, calling instead on Washington to withdraw US levies on European goods after the WTO last year authorised a record US$7.5 billion in US sanctions against European goods.

Washington then imposed punitive tariffs of 25% on EU products such as wine, cheese and olive oil. A 10% tariff on Airbus planes was hiked to 15% in March.

“I have made it clear that my strong preference is for a negotiated settlement with the US, avoiding harmful rounds of measures and countermeasures,” EU executive VP Valdis Dombrovskis said.

“Our suggestion is that the US withdraws the tariffs they imposed as a consequence of the Airbus ruling,” the former Latvian prime minister added.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Tuesday the US would “intensify” talks to find a resolution to the longstanding dispute.

“The US is determined to find a resolution to this dispute that addresses the massive subsidies European governments have provided to Airbus and the harm to US aerospace workers and businesses,” Lighthizer said.

“We are waiting for a response from the EU to a recent US proposal and will intensify our ongoing negotiations with the EU to restore fair competition and a level playing field to this sector.”

Lighthizer said the ruling clearing the way for US$4 billion in EU tariffs on American goods had “no valid basis” because it was based on a tax provision by Washington state, where Boeing is based, that had been repealed earlier this year.

Following Tuesday’s decision, the EU must request permission from the Dispute Settlement Body to apply the decision — something it could do at the body’s next meeting on Oct 26, a week before the US presidential election.

While several EU leaders have been calling for imposing the tariffs immediately if Washington does not agree to drop its levies, few expect it to do so.

One industry source, however, expects the WTO ruling to “open the door for negotiations”. — AFP