The World Trade Organization ruled on Friday that European loans for Airbus were illegal subsidies under world trade rules, U.S. lawmakers said, but European sources said Washington did not win a sweeping victory.
The decision came in a confidential 1,000-plus page ruling handed out to the United States and the European Union at WTO headquarters in Geneva.
The findings will not be made public for months.
Lawmakers from Washington state, where much of Boeing's production work is done, said the WTO agreed with the United States that European launch aid loans to help Airbus develop the A380 and other top-selling planes violated global trade rules.
I applaud the WTO's decision that government subsidies of Airbus are illegal, said Senator Maria Cantwell. When finalized, this long-awaited ruling will help restore true competition in the commercial aviation market.
Representative Norman Dicks also welcomed the ruling, which he said definitively confirms the U.S. argument in the case.
But what is discouraging is the damage that has been done to America's premier airline manufacturer, which has suffered the loss of 20 percent of the market share -- representing hundreds of billions of dollars in value and tens of thousands of jobs -- since our concerns were first raised with the Europeans, Dicks said.
Dicks and Cantwell were briefed on the ruling by U.S. trade officials, their spokespeople said.
European sources said the ruling was not as clear-cut as the lawmakers and U.S. private sector sources claimed.
The assertion that the WTO report says that all 380 funding is a prohibited subsidy is wrong. The findings are much more nuanced than that, a European source close to the case said.
The Airbus case, and the European Union counterclaim about U.S. support to Boeing
Washington says Airbus, a subsidiary of EADS
Brussels, in turn, argues the Airbus loans were fair and says Boeing got big illegal subsidies from U.S. agencies including NASA plus state tax breaks worth some $24 billion.
'HALF THE STORY'
Those who try to inject the WTO issue into the tanker competition are doing our warfighters a major disservice, said Randy Belote, a Northrop spokesman.
Boeing, asked about the tanker impact, said it sought a level playing field where everyone is held to the same high standards and transparency.
Washington state lawmakers had a different view.
If DoD (Department of Defense) wants a truly fair competition, it needs to start with competitors that play by the rules. DoD needs to answer to how this violation of WTO rules will be considered in the competition for the vital aerial refueling tanker, said Senator Patty Murray.
Murray urged European governments to immediately put a stop to plans to provide any further illegal launch aid.
She said she was reacting to press reports about the ruling.
The three-member WTO panel was widely expected to agree with complainant Washington that billions of euros of launch aid loans Airbus received to develop aircraft was anti-competitive and broke trade laws.
While not commenting on Friday's findings, Brussels stressed a full picture of the aircraft subsidy dispute would only become clear after the initial ruling was released from the case against Boeing, expected in six months.
It is important to recall that this report is only half the story and must be read together with an interim report on the EU case against the U.S. over aid to Boeing, said Luiz Guellner, spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative also declined to comment on the specifics of the ruling, while repeating its view that the European governments have provided unfair subsidies to Airbus that harm U.S. interests.
Boeing, which has said it hopes the WTO decision would halt some $4 billion in EU assistance for Airbus' latest project, the A350 wide-body jet, declined to comment on the WTO report and Airbus also had no immediate statement.
It could take years for the WTO aircraft litigation to run its course, and for definitive rulings to be issued on the kinds of government financing that are acceptable in the sector.
Most industry analysts expect Boeing and Airbus to negotiate a settlement in their long-running dispute before it reaches the WTO's top court.
The extent to which Airbus or Boeing makes out better than the other in the twin preliminary rulings will affect the dynamics of those talks, which both sides have said they eventually want to hold.
(Additional reporting by Sven Egenter, Kerstin Doerr, Tim Hepher, Darren Ennis, Doug Palmer, Jim Wolf, Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Tim Hepher and Peter Cooney)