Tuesday 22 October 2019

Donal O'Donovan: 'Era of goodwill around globalisation looks over - and we'll be major losers'


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Donal O'Donovan

A 15-year-old trade row over whether European countries or the US were worse offenders in helping out their respective airline manufacturers has blown up spectacularly.

Bizarrely, it's gone off in the unsuspecting faces of the Irish food and drinks industry.

The row over soft loans that France, the UK, Germany and Spain provided to airplane maker Airbus has a parallel, almost perfectly symmetrical counterpart in support that the US gave to Boeing.

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Airbus and Boeing are arch rivals, and each is a massive and highly prized employer in its home markets. Both rows have been rumbling for 15 years. It's the world's longest-running and most expensive trade dispute.

Unfortunately for Irish food producers, the EU case has been decided first, and Europe lost.

On Wednesday, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) - which referees trade rows between members - ruled that in the Airbus case Europe was in the wrong. Soft loans given to the plane maker were at the expense of its US rivals. By way of compensation, the WTO gave the US authority to impose tariffs on as much as $7.5bn of European exports.

It's entirely up to the Trump administration what EU products they decide to hit - or if they hit any. Donald Trump predictably ignored all calls for restraint.

His entire political rise has surfed the narrative that the US, and US workers, have long been victims of unfair trade tricks. So he relished the chance to crow and to impose the trade tax at the first opportunity.

Broadly, the new tariffs target the countries that supported Airbus all those years ago. Airbus jets are, of course, front and centre. They were slapped with the maximum 10pc levy that can be imposed under the rules. But that's only part of the story.

The WTO green light to hit European imports also created a chance for Mr Trump to provide some relief to US farmers who have been hard hit by his other major trade dispute - the tit-for-tat battle with China.

So Irish farmers and food producers will pay the price.

It's worth bearing in mind that the US is in the right on this, at least right now. As the guilty party, the EU has no right to respond with its own tit-for-tat tariffs, even though the damage to Irish food exporters is desperately unfair.

The total lack of restraint from the US was predictable. Four years ago it would have been unimaginable.

In the new year, the US will in all likelihood lose its case at the WTO over supports to Boeing. Many in the EU will relish the opportunity to strike back.

A long period of ever freer trade based on a mix of rules and mutual goodwill is ending. Ireland was one of the biggest winners of that era of globalisation. Everyone is set to lose if it's really over.

Irish Independent

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