Boeing received at least $5.3 billion in illegal subsidies, WTO finds
The U.S. federal government, states and local governments provided at least $5.3 billion in illegal subsidies to Boeing, a World Trade Organization panel found in a ruling released Thursday. “This WTO Panel report clearly shows that Boeing has received huge subsidies in the past and continues to receive significant subsidies today,” European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in a statement. “These subsidies have resulted in substantial harm to EU interests, causing Airbus to lose sales,
depress its aircraft prices and unfairly lose market share to Boeing.”
United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk noted that the panel rejected most of the EU claims, with the subsidy total falling far below the $19.1 billion alleged.
“Today a WTO panel confirmed what we have been saying for the last 20 years — that the WTO-inconsistent subsidies that the Europeans gave to Airbus dwarf anything that the U.S. government has given to Boeing,” he said in a statement. “This is an important victory for the United States, and particularly for American workers and businesses.”
The Wall Street Journal quoted European sources saying the EU planned to appeal the ruling as soon as Friday and Kirk saying he is studying whether to appeal. Both sides appealed an earlier ruling that European nations illegally subsidized Boeing competitor Airbus.
Kirk appears to be right that the WTO rulings found more subsidization of Airbus than Boeing, particularly with regard to launch aid financing of new programs Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, said Thursday.“On the face of it, direct product launch aid does seem to be in a class by itself. It’s just that it doesn’t matter very much,” he said.
That’s because Europe “found just enough (subsidies to Boeing) to give politicians on their side talking points to resist any political pressure,” he said. So European nations will continue to do what they’ve been doing, including providing launch aid for Airbus’ new composite A350 XWB airliner, which competes against Boeing’s 787
Dreamliner and 777.
But U.S. and Boeing officials must have known this sort of stalemate would be
the outcome of filing a WTO complaint, Aboulafia said. “They must have had
secondary objectives.”One possibility is that the complaint aimed at reassuring potential 787 financiers and customers jittery about a subsidized Airbus response to the
aircraft, he said. “It might have achieved that objective, because the 787
successfully launched. … That’s the only thing that makes any real sense to
Airbus estimated that the subsidies cost it $45 billion in lost sales.“Finally the truth emerges: Boeing has received and continues to receive subsidies which have a significantly greater distortive effect than the Reimbursable Loans to Airbus,” Rainer Ohler, Airbus’ head of Public Affairs and Communications, said in a news release, referring to the main funding mechanism at issue in the earlier case regarding European subsidies to Airbus.
“Taking the cases together, the WTO has now specifically green-lighted the continued use of government loans in Europe and ordered Boeing to end its illegal cash support from U.S. taxpayers. It’s time for Boeing to stop denying or minimizing the massive illegal subsidies it gets.”
But Boeing countered that $2.2 billion of the $5.3 billion was from export tax benefits that Congress withdrew after an earlier WTO case and another $400 million of the total were subsidies too insignificant to have impacted Airbus, leaving $2.7 that would have to be addressed if the ruling survives the appeal process. The “at least” part of the $5.3 billion comes from the WTO panel’s decision not to estimate the subsidy value of Defense Department research and development funding and facility access, other than to say it’s somewhere between the U.S. estimate of significantly less than $308 million and the EU
contention of $2.4 billion.
That compares with $20 billion in illegal subsidies found to have gone to
Airbus, mostly in launch aid loans at terms more favorable than the open
market. The new ruling doesn’t total the value of lost sales to Airbus. Airbus
spokeswoman Maggie Bergsma said the company came up with $45 billion by looking
at the campaigns the panel identified as lost sales attributable to illegal
Asked about that total, Boeing spokesman Tim Neale said: “This is a number
that they’ve pulled out of their hat.”
He noted that it’s up to the WTO to determine the total at a later date, that
the impact would only matter if the U.S. refused to withdraw subsidies after
appeals and that the U.S. determined the economic value of illegal subsidies to
Airbus to be more than $200 billion.
And the idea that Airbus lost sales doesn’t make sense, given that company’s
rise in recent years, Neale said. “We’re the ones that lost 20 percent market
In the Airbus case, the WTO panel found that European Union nations gave
illegal “actionable” subsidies to several Airbus programs and more-serious
“prohibited” export subsidies to the super-jumbo Airbus A380. The only prohibited subsidy in the Boeing ruling is the export tax benefit addressed
in the earlier case.
“This WTO ruling shatters the convenient myth that European governments must
illegally subsidize Airbus to counter U.S. government assistance to Boeing,” J.
Michael Luttig, Boeing executive vice president and general counsel, said in a
“Comparing today’s decision with the decision last June reveals a market
distorted by Airbus’ practices, with illegal launch aid being the key
discriminator,” Luttig said. “The WTO ruling on launch aid goes to the heart of
the Airbus business model, which now must change. In contrast, there are no
comparable findings or consequences to the U.S. or Boeing from today’s decision,
as the WTO has now fully and finally rejected most of the EU’s claims.”
But Ohler noted that the Airbus ruling upheld launch aid as a legitimate way
to fund programs (if the funding is on market terms).
“The company has achieved a massive condemnation of its U.S. funding
mechanisms — provided the U.S. is willing to implement the ruling — while the
European mechanism has been approved as a legal instrument,” he said.
European nations have pledged billions of dollars worth of launch aid for the
A350, which was not part of the the earlier WTO ruling because the program had
not launched when the U.S. filed the case. After failing to tie the A350 in by
arguing that launch aid loans collectively are an ongoing subsidy program, the
U.S. has appealed
that point (and others).
The European Union filed its case against Boeing subsidies in reaction to the
U.S. claim regarding Airbus funding. European officials have consistently called
for negotiations to address the issue.
“The only result of this anachronistic battle is that it limits America’s and
Europe’s ability to compete with emerging competitors that have access to
unlimited government funding,” Ohler said Thursday.
Boeing and the U.S. aren’t very worried about those competitors, Aboulafia
asserted. “Frankly, they’re just not that formidable, and there’s almost no hope
of stopping their development efforts.”
Given this, and the failure to stop A350 funding, discussions on the issue
are unlikely to be productive, he said: “There’s nothing to negotiate.”
But Boeing Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney
connected the ruling to upstart plane makers, particularly in China.
“This was a dramatic victory for clarifying the rules of engagement for
developing countries as they start developing products like aircraft,” McNerney
said at the annual U.S. Export-Import Bank conference, according
to Reuters. “We’re very hopeful that that will help us with the Chinese, as
they start supporting their efforts.”
In the Boeing case, the EU asserted that the U.S. plane maker got an
estimated $19.1 billion in illegal subsidies between 1989 and 2006. This
included $10.4 billion in NASA research and development subsidies and the export
benefits addressed in the previous case.
In addition to the prohibited export benefits (found to be $2.2 billion to
Boeing), the WTO panel found these were improper subsidies:
- NASA research and development funding, and access to facilities, equipment
and employees ($2.6 billion);
- Washington Business and Occupation tax break and credits, and sales and use
tax exemptions for the 787 line and Everett B&O tax break and workforce
development program and employment resource center ($77.7 million);
- Property and sales tax abatements related to Industrial Revenue Bonds by
Kansas and Wichita ($476 million);
- Incentives Illinois, Chicago and Cook County, Ill., provided in connection
with Boeing’s headquarters move there ($11 million);
- Defense Department research and development funding, and access to
facilities (“unclear” amount between less than $308 million and $2.4
These subsidies are only actionable if they cause an impact. The panel found
- NASA and Pentagon subsidies caused “significant price suppression,
significant lost sales and threat of displacement and impedance of exports from
third country markets” for 200- to 300-seat airliners;
- The export benefits caused the same impacts in the 100- to 200-seat market;
- The export benefits and tax breaks from Washington and Everett caused the
same impact in the 300- to 400-seat market;
The panel rejected the EU’s contention that Washington tax breaks were a
prohibited subsidy and all subsidy claims regarding:
- Washington sales and use tax exemptions for construction services and
equipment, leasehold and property tax exemptions, coordinators and assumption of
legal costs provided for in 787 measures;
- Washington’s Interstate 5 and State Route 527 expansion projects, the
construction of a rail-barge transfer facility and the expansion of the South
Terminal by the Port of Everett;
- Waiver of Paine Field landing fees for Boeing’s “Dreamlifter,” which
transports 787 sections, and other Dreamlifter-related incentives;
- Washington freezing of rates for certain utility services.
- Kansas payments to Boeing supplier Spirit Aerosytems;
- Pentagon payments and facility access under procurement contracts;
- Pentagon and NASA allocation of intellectual property rights and
reimbursement of independent research and development and bid and proposal
- Commerce Department payments made to joint ventures and consortia in which
Boeing participated through the Advanced Technology Program;
- Labor Department payment made to Edmonds Community College under the High
Growth Job Training Initiative.