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Airlines to Trump: Protect Us from Foreign Competition

The Washington Post reports that U.S. carriers will ask president-elect Donald Trump to protect them from unfair competition with heavily subsidized Persian Gulf carriers. The three big U.S. airlines—Delta, United, and American—”have unsuccessfully lobbied the Obama administration to take up their cause against a trio of Gulf airlines who have grown exponentially, making inroads in the global market,” according to the Post.

Those carriers would like Trump to re-examine and perhaps renegotiate the Open Skies agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. Open Skies basically gives airlines from different countries equal access to each other’s airports.

It’s not clear if the U.S. carriers would actually want to change the Open Skies agreement with Qatar or the UAE. “We look forward to briefing president-elect Donald Trump and his new administration on the massive, unfair subsidies that the UAE and Qatar give to their state-owned Gulf carriers,” Jill Zuckman, spokeswoman for the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, told the Post.

Trump, of course, endlessly derided US trade agreements throughout his campaign, and seemed convinced he could negotiate better ones. The airlines likely see an opportunity, then, to use Trump’s ego, bluster, and protectionist stance to their advantage. “The Gulf carrier subsidies threaten the jobs of 300,000 U.S. aviation workers and the American aviation industry as a whole,” said Zuckman, “and we are optimistic that the Trump administration will stand up to the UAE and Qatar, enforce our trade agreements and fight for American jobs.”

Whether the US airlines have an actual case is difficult to determine because the gulf carriers have not shared much in the way of financial details. What the U.S. calls “subsidies” the Gulf states call “investments,” including, according to the Post, “$7.8 billion the United Arab Emirates spent to expand and transform the airport in Dubai for the benefit of Emirates airline” and “billions in cash” that Etihad received from the government of Saudi Arabia.

Of course, asking a new president to “protect” you from foreign competition isn’t exactly taking the moral high road, either.

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