Even as Airbus announces an expansion that will bring roughly 450 new jobs and increase production, the shadow of another senseless tariff is taking the shine off our apple. And while many local and state leaders are in open opposition to the potential tariff, most are still tiptoeing around, fearful of either offending our hyper-sensitive President or his most fervent supporters who still think random tariffs are indeed sticking it to the foreigners who’ve been getting over on us for so long.
Normally in a situation where Washington policies threaten to destroy what people outside the Beltway have worked so hard to build, you can expect a fierce backlash from local and state leaders. So far, though, any ferocity has taken a back seat to political concerns and flat out fear.
Our community has worked so incredibly hard to build an aerospace industry — too hard to have ill-conceived and ineffective tariffs harm progress. We’ve been yanked around and stabbed in the back by Boeing on multiple occasions, and this looks like a continuation of that behavior. As Boeing is being crushed by its own failures with its 737 MAX 8 airliners, which have killed hundreds and now sit grounded around the world, tariffs are a ploy to try to prop up a corrupt and unethical company simply because it is “American.”
The complaints against Airbus have always been that it receives subsidies from several EU countries, thus giving it an unfair advantage. In Mobile we’ve learned the hard way that it’s generally Boeing that has the unfair advantage. Think back to how they were able to steal away a massive $35 billion tanker contract that had been awarded to Northrop Grumman and Airbus, which would have been built at Brookley Field. Boeing protested and asked for a “do over” until they were awarded the contract in a decision that stunned both industry insiders and the local team that put the deal together.
Since prying that contract away from Mobile, Boeing’s efforts on the tanker contract have been dismal, and the few planes they have delivered suffer from serious technical problems. The government won’t likely see any of the 179 promised new tankers in combat operations until a decade after the company was awarded the contract. But the U.S. government doesn’t subsidize Boeing, right?
Trade wars and tariffs have never made much sense to me, as they harm the little guy far more than the big boys. It seems illogical — in the case of China, for instance — to believe you can ultimately win a trade war with a country whose government doesn’t care about basic human rights. These days we’re pumping billions to farmers who can no longer sell soybeans and other products overseas, but somehow count that as a win.
Many people believe Trump’s tariffs are smart business, but they really haven’t proven to be. We’ve seen it firsthand in the newspaper business. Two years ago Trump slapped a tariff on Canadian newsprint at the behest of a lone paper mill in Washington state. Although the rest of the manufacturers and printers in the U.S. told him it would be ruinous and there weren’t enough newsprint mills in the country to meet demand, Trump did it anyway.
The result was a massive increase in the cost of paper, the closing of many local newspapers around the country and onerous cost increases for the rest of us that continue to this day. Eventually the International Trade Commission determined U.S. industry was not injured by imports from Canada and overturned the President’s tariff. But the damage was done and it still costs newspapers across the country much more to print than it did before the tariff was imposed.
So forgive me if I don’t have much faith in the genius of tariff warfare.
Airbus is staring down the barrel of the same misdirected gun, only this is a lot more dangerous to the community as a whole. While administration officials bluster about Airbus getting unfair subsidies, the real effort seems to be trying to hobble Airbus while Boeing attempts to worm its way out of the disasters it has created.
The proposed tariffs first came up last year, but the airplane parts were removed after much effort from the pro-Airbus cadre. However, a World Trade Organization ruling that Airbus does indeed benefit from subsidies now has the Trump administration pushing tariffs again.
As a result, the city of Mobile and both Mobile and Baldwin County Commissions have drafted resolutions asking the president not to include airplane parts in any tariffs aimed at the EU. And it’s good to see those governmental organizations taking a lead in fighting the tariffs. But it’s still somewhat disappointing to see other officeholders taking a decidedly more tepid tack when it comes to defending what we’ve built here.
Some candidates for U.S. House and U.S. Senate are far more interested in preserving the perception of close ties to Trump than in protecting the interests of people living in this district. The latest talk of slapping a 100 percent tariff on airplane parts bound for Mobile’s Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility is making life pretty tough on those politicians who have decided their election strategy to higher office must include massive amounts of embarrassing supplication to President Trump.
Frankly at this point I’m not looking for the Trumpiest candidate out there for House or Senate. I’d like to see the one willing to raise hell about the danger of placing tariffs on those parts Alabama workers are using to build an aerospace center here in Mobile. Someone needs to stand up to the president and ask what’s to be gained. Are airlines supposed to buy Boeing’s broken jets? Are travelers supposed to ride on them? Once again it’s the consumer who’ll be screwed by tariffs.
And the thousands who work in and around Mobile’s Airbus assembly plant.
Maybe there are still people who think having Boeing as a de facto monopoly is good for the country, but after seeing not only the poor efforts they’ve put into making sure their new jets are safe, but also the way they’ve handled the Air Force tanker they stole away from us, it’s hard to understand why.
The Airbus planes rolling off the assembly line at Brookley Field are American, and they’re also airworthy. Let’s hope the President will understand that before ridiculous tariffs hurt what we’ve been carefully building. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt if the people who say they want to represent us in Washington — or do currently represent us for that matter — get a little more vocal about protecting local jobs and worry less about offending Trump.
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