Sarkozy, Merkel Warn U.S. Against Protectionism

Issue is over Boeing winning a massive defense contract

Amid controversy over the awarding of a massive defense project, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned the United States against protectionism on March 16.

"The chancellor and the president affirmed that trans-Atlantic economic ties should be founded in open markets and fair competition," the European leaders said. They called on Washington to "reject protectionist temptation, including in the defense sector, in which each year European Union countries buy three times as much weaponry from the United States as they sell there."

Boeing is to win a $35 billion deal to supply aerial tankers after partners EADS and Northrop Grumman dropped out, citing changed Pentagon requirements they claimed favored their rival.

France, home to EADS' subsidiary Airbus that was to have made the planes -- albeit at a plant in Spain -- has accused Washington of foregoing a chance to buy a better plane that in 2008 had been frontrunner for the deal.

Germany has accused the United States of protectionism and said it will "take up the affair on a political level, and also at the level of the WTO."

And Sarkozy has said he will bring up Europe's concerns directly with his US counterpart Barack Obama when he visits the White House later this month.

"The chancellor and the president, in coordination with the European Commission and their European partners that are concerned, will examine the implications and future developments in this matter," the statement said.

The Pentagon, which initially in 2008 favored the European Airbus offer as providing a bigger and more versatile aircraft, insists that in now backing the cheaper Boeing version it is seeking best value for U.S. taxpayers.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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