Murray to try new tactic in Boeing-EADS fight

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) wants to force the Pentagon to take a trade dispute into account when selecting the contractor for a new Air Force refueling aircraft fleet.

Murray, a strong supporter of Boeing’s bid for the contract, is planning to introduce an amendment to the 2011 defense authorization bill that would require the Pentagon to take into account the subsidies that Airbus received from European governments to launch its aircraft. 

Boeing and EADS, the defense and aerospace giant behind Airbus, are going head-to-head for the $35 billion tanker contract. Boeing would build the new tankers in Washington State and Kansas. EADS would assemble the tankers in Mobile, Ala. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The House passed a provision similar to Murray’s in its version of the defense authorization bill. Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that trade disputes would not be considered as part of the selection process. 

The World Trade Organization last week issued a confidential ruling that concluded Boeing received illegal U.S. government development aid for its aircraft, according to several U.S. lawmakers. 

The WTO’s interim ruling comes a few months after it issued a public decision backing a U.S. complaint that Airbus — Boeing’s biggest rival on the commercial aircraft market — benefited from European government subsidies to launch its new aircraft. The EU is appealing that ruling. 

Boeing’s supporters seized on the WTO ruling against the EU to make the case for pending legislation that they argue would level the playing field between Airbus and Boeing. 

EADS North America last week argued that the WTO’s new ruling underscores that international trade disputes should not be factored into the competition for the Air Force tanker. 

But Boeing’s congressional supporters argue that the findings of U.S. government subsidies to Boeing cannot be compared to those received by Airbus. 

Murray, a defense appropriator, said the EU and U.S. cases are not in the same “ballpark or even the same league.”