The controversy involving plane makers Bombardier and Boeing took an unlikely turn on Wednesday as it emerged Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill had joined forces in a bid to raise pressure on the US government over the issue.
The pair issued a joint letter to US vice president Mike Pence raising their concerns that the fallout from the spat could financially devastate one of the region’s biggest employers.
Canadian aerospace giant Bombardier, which employs almost 4,500 people in Belfast and accounts for 10% of the region’s manufacturing exports, alleges that Bombardier received subsidies allowing it to sell its C Series planes at below-market prices in the US.
The US Department of Commerce is expected to announce a decision on whether to impose duties against Bombardier on September 25.
The UK government has been actively lobbying in the US for a compromise between the two companies amid growing concern about the potential implications for Bombardier’s Belfast operations.
Prime Minister Theresa May raised the matter with US President Donald Trump in a phone call last week.
The letter to Mr Pence from DUP leader Mrs Foster and Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill made reference to the peace process.
An excerpt of it, as quoted by both the BBC and Reuters news agency on Wednesday, said: “For a small economy such as ours, the significance of the contribution that Bombardier makes cannot be understated.
“The threat facing us as a result of the ongoing case is alarming, and goes much wider than it may immediately appear.”
Business secretary Greg Clark also recently travelled to Boeing’s base in Chicago to discuss the potential impact of the dispute and Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been involved in negotiations.
Boeing has so far underlined its determination to press ahead with its petition alleging that massive subsidies have allowed Bombardier to embark “on an aggressive campaign to dump its C Series aircraft in the United States”, despite efforts to negotiate involving the Canadian government and has said it will “let the process play out”.
On Tuesday Bombardier branded Boeing’s petition “an unfounded assault on airlines, the travelling public, and further innovation in aerospace”.
Speaking to the BBC, Canadian Liberal Party senator Colin Kenny said: “There isn’t a single aircraft company in the world that doesn’t have some form of assistance from government.
“Boeing is a big boy – it can take care of its interests by building a better plane at a lesser cost, I don’t see why they’re turning to their government now.”
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke warned that Boeing’s “corporate bullying” was putting thousands of good jobs at risk.
“Unite is demanding the Prime Minister and the government stand up for the workforce in Northern Ireland...
“She needs to tell President Trump, she will not stand by and watch Boeing threaten thousands of jobs.”