US ruling on Bombardier risks thousands of UK jobs, claims union

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The Prime Minister has been accused of being "asleep at the wheel" after the US slapped a punitive import duty on planes made by one of Northern Ireland's biggest employers.

Unions have warned that thousands of jobs could be in jeopardy after the US Department of Commerce (DoC) imposed an interim tariff of nearly 220% on a new model of passenger jet manufactured by Bombardier.

More than 4,000 people are employed in Belfast by the Canadian multinational and thousands more jobs in Northern Ireland are supported through the manufacturer's supply chain, according to trade unionists.

Workers enter the Bombardier Aerospace plant in Belfast
More than 4,000 people are employed in Belfast by Bombardier (Niall Carson/PA)

Theresa May had lobbied Donald Trump over the dispute sparked by complaints from rival Boeing that Bombardier received unfair state subsidies from the UK and Canada, allowing the sale of airliners at below cost prices in the US.

Announcing the regulator's preliminary finding on Tuesday, US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross said the subsidisation of goods by foreign governments was something that the President's administration "takes very seriously".

Bombardier labelled the determination "absurd", while in its response the UK Government said the statement was "disappointing" and pledged to defend UK interests "at the very highest levels".

However unions warned 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.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump's "America First" policy could be putting jobs in Northern Ireland at risk (Alex Brandon/AP)

Ross Murdoch, the GMB union's national officer, said the initial ruling was a "hammer blow" to Belfast and risked sending shock waves through Northern Ireland's economy.

"Theresa May has been asleep at the wheel when she could and should have been fighting to protect these workers. It's high time she woke up," he said.

Another 9,400 supply chain jobs could be wiped out in Northern Ireland on top of those directly employed at the plant, Mr Murdoch warned.

"That's 14,000 people in Northern Ireland now in jeopardy," he said.

A general view of the Bombardier Aerospace plant in Belfast
(Niall Carson/PA)

Jimmy Kelly, Unite Regional Secretary, said: "The decision taken by the US Department of Commerce was not unexpected - unfortunately it is unlikely to be overturned by president Trump whose protectionist tendencies are well-known.

"The threat of punitive tariffs on the C-Series will cast a shadow over Bombardier's future unless the company can source alternative and substantial sales outside the US market."

The Department of Commerce's enforcement and compliance unit is responsible for vigorously enforcing US trade laws and does so through an impartial, transparent process that abides by international rules and is based solely on factual evidence, its statement said.

It added: "Imports from companies that receive unfair subsidies from their governments in the form of grants, loans, equity infusions, tax breaks and production inputs are subject to 'countervailing duties' aimed at directly countering those subsidies."