Every so often a story appears in the foreign media that reminds you of how differently some countries approach business than America does. One such story appeared in the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro on June 7, reporting that 50 right-wing deputies from the French National Assembly had drafted a petition urging the airline Air France-KLM to purchase a hundred Airbus transports rather than competing Boeing planes when it places a big order for widebodies in the next few months. The petition carries added weight because the Franco-Dutch airline is 16 percent owned by the French government.
The reason the deputies are up in arms is that Airbus has alerted them to a likely buy of a hundred Boeing 787 Dreamliners by the carrier. Air France-KLM has tended to favor Boeing widebodies in the past, selecting the Boeing 777 over the Airbus A340, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the airline now opted to buy the new 787 over an Airbus alternative. But coming as it does on the eve of a company meeting that will decide whether the airline’s head will have his contract renewed, the legislators’ action undoubtedly has caught the attention of Air France-KLM executives.
When’s the last time you heard about members of Congress pressuring a U.S. airline to purchase American products? That sort of thing doesn’t happen much here. Quite the opposite: if Airbus had bid a bit more aggressively, it might be getting ready to supply 179 new aerial-refueling tankers to the U.S. Air Force, a deal no American company would ever be offered by the government of France. And meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would be prosecuting a case to block Boeing from opening a second production facility for its 787 in South Carolina out of misplaced concern that the new plant might undermine the bargaining power of union members at the main plant.
There was a time when American politicians were just as nationalist and mercantilist as their counterparts in places like France, but free trade now has a strong following in both national political parties. Political leaders in other countries profess to be free traders too, but you don’t have to search hard to find evidence that their support of a level playing field is often more tactical than heartfelt. The action of the French deputies is all too typical of what companies like Boeing must face everyday in overseas markets. That doesn’t mean U.S. legislators should act the same way, but it does suggest that we should stop making life so hard for our biggest exporters here at home. A good place to start would be by ending the NLRB’s ridiculous campaign to keep Boeing’s South Carolina plant from opening.
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