USA turns up heat in hushkits row

Trade and industry under-secretaries threaten to exclude EU from key international forum

US trade representatives yesterday took the first step towards sanctions against the EU over a controversial European proposal to ban hushkitted aircraft, America's commerce department has announced. Commerce and industry under-secretaries David Aaron and Alan Larson met the head of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Assad Kotaite, to "discuss the US decision to file a formal complaint against the EU".

The EU is intending to ban aircraft fitted with hushkit mufflers from May on noise grounds. The measure has already been delayed by a year after earlier American protests. The USA claims the ban is based on design rather than noise criteria and discriminates against older US aircraft sold to EU air freight firms. It says a change in EU aircraft noise standards would contravene ICAO rules.

"We cannot allow the EU to take unilateral action while US trade and aviation interests are being badly damaged," said Mr Aaron. His department said that leaving the regulation unchallenged "could lead to a patchwork quilt of different regional and national standards in what is the quintessential global industry." If the USA pursues the action it could lead to the EU losing its seat at the ICAO.

EU transport ministers last year pledged to suspend the regulation if talks with US officials secured agreement to push for higher noise standards within ICAO, talks on which are going at too slow a pace for the EU (ENDS Daily 10 December 1999). The USA has promised transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio it will support the standards, but is insisting on a full withdrawal of the hushkits law first (ENDS Daily 7 October 1999).

A spokesperson for the US mission to the EU told ENDS Daily today that American manufacturers had lost over US$2bn (euros 1.9bn) because of the threat to ban their products. A suspension would give the EU unfair "leverage" in ICAO talks, he said, as it could be revoked at any time, whereas a withdrawn law would have to pass the EU's lengthy legislative procedures. One source said officials from both sides were still communicating on the issue, but "not a whole lot recently."

Follow Up:
US commerce department, tel: +1 202 482 3809. European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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