Friday, September 17, 2004

A little airplane accident

You always know when absolutely nothing has been achieved. All the participants come out with fixed smiles saying their discussions have been "useful and frank". And guess what they said when they came out of the talks at the Commission in Brussels over the ongoing dispute between Boeing and Airbus Industrie.

Instead of progress, it seems EU negotiators are still trying the "mote and beam" tactic of defending their subsidies by accusing the US of subsidising its own aircraft development.

This enabled Arancha Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, to assume an air of injured innocence, saying, "It would be difficult for us to tell Airbus that we would not give them any support when Boeing has just received big subsidies."

A terse John Veroneau, general counsel at the US Trade Representative's office and head of Washington's negotiating team, contented himself with a brief statement of the obvious, declaring, "we still did not have a meeting of minds". However, the US government has not issued an ultimatum, although it is still keeping its options open on a reference to the WTO.

Upping the ante, Gonzalez, for the commission, is now mounting a spoiler, threatening to take the US to the WTO over Boeing's new 7E7 project, claiming, once again, that Boeing has benefited from "indirect subsidies" through billions of dollars in "overpriced" Pentagon contracts for warplanes and research and development.

One is reminded of an incident in 1942 in Gibraltar, just before the Allied TORCH landings, when French general Henri Giraud arrived unannounced at Eisenhower’s headquarters and demanded to take immediate command of all allied forces.

After fruitless hours of circular arguments with an unmoving Giraud, Eisenhower was heard to mutter to his aides about arranging "a little airplane accident" for their guest. If Veroneau was ever tempted to think along the same lines, I am sure Boeing could help out…

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