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Sarkozy, Brown slam US ‘protectionism’ on defence deal

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-03-13

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (right) and Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown have accused Washington of protectionism, claiming the Pentagon favoured US company Boeing for a $50 billion Air Force refuelling tanker contract.

The leaders of France and Britain have accused Washington of obstructing European aerospace company EADS from fairly competing for a $50 billion Air Force refuelling tanker contract.

The trans-Atlantic dispute over a $50 billion US Air Force refuelling tanker contract reached new heights Friday, as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused Washington of protectionism -- a policy that the USA usually warns other countries against.

If the US "wants to be taken seriously in the fight against protectionism, they should be setting a better example”, Sarkozy said at a joint press conference with his British counterpart in London.

The stinging rebuke came after US defence contractor Northrop Grumman and its European partner EADS withdrew on Monday from a tender to supply tankers to the US Air Force, saying the rules favoured rival bidder Boeing, the top US exporter.

Thomas Enders, CEO of French aerospace manufacturer Airbus, an EADS affiliate, told the daily Financial Times Deutschland that new contract specifications were written to "favour a smaller and less effective aircraft", a reference to Boeing’s bid.

Back-door negotiations?

"The changes in the tender criteria between 2008 and 2010 show that the mood in Washington has changed," says Nicola Clark, an American journalist and aviation specialist with the New York Times. "There are unjustified fears that the European consortium will steal American jobs."

The original contract was won by the USA’s Boeing in 2003, but was invalidated due to irregularities. A second tender was won by EADS and Northrop in 2008, but was also controversially cancelled.

With Northrop and AEDS' exit, Boeing is now the sole known bidder for the contract, which expires on May 10.

According to Christian Harbulot, director of the French School of Military Economics (EGE) Washington’s interference in the refuelling taker affair could go beyond mere protectionism.

“Considering the strategic importance of this industry, I would not exclude the possibility there were negotiations between the US administration and Northrop,” he says, implying that the US-based Northrop was leaned on to back out of the contest.

However, for Nicola Clark, such a scenario seems unlikely given Northrop’s firm standing in Washington. “Such a move does not seem realistic," Clark says.

"Mutual compliments"

Date created : 2010-03-12

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