Trading Transport

Trading Transport

The United States and Europe have settled - or, rather, agreed to settle - a trade dispute over subsidies for the Boeing and Airbus aircraft manufacturers. Now perhaps it's time both sides took a look at what goes inside those planes.

On the surface, you might think an agreement on aircraft in some way would be a transportation matter. But the troublesome truth is that any settlement over the Boeing-Airbus differences will be almost entirely about Boeing and Airbus and not about the logistics and transport concerns that figure so prominently in the planning and problems of shippers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Certainly the idea that there is some sort of common ground between the U.S. and the European Union is important trade news, but the best result for air carriers and shippers would be greater attention to transport and logistics issues. The most immediate issue remains the impasse in talks toward a new air services treaty that has more to do with seat pitch - the imperceptible sliver of space between seats on passenger aircraft - than on the larger issues of substance that really drive the trading economy.

It's time for shippers on both sides of the Atlantic to ask their governments to create a trans-Atlantic common market for cargo transport.

Manufacturers and retailers have, after all, already done that, taking advantage of free trade agreements and globalizing trade to erase or blur borders to the sourcing of goods and to reach new markets. Transport companies are trying to do the same, whether through intermodal strategies to meet shifting patterns of domestic distribution inside the United States or through the use of larger containerships and new flight operations to answer the demands of longer supply chains and greater efficiency.

There was some talk last year of separate provisions for cargo during talks toward a broad and unprecedented aviation treaty that would have recognized the E.U. as the United States of Europe as far as air trade was concerned. Those talks fell apart, however, over issues such as foreign ownership of airlines and access to London Heathrow Airport - issues that should not, in the broad scheme of air trade, be barriers to a complete restructuring of a historic relationship between two trading partners.

The losers in that failure aren't the airlines on either side of the Atlantic Ocean but the manufacturers, retailers and other shippers that can only see the lack of open air services as a barrier to economic globalization.

The United States and China recognized the impact of transport on larger trans-Pacific trade when they struck a new air services agreement that carves out entirely separate timetables for expansion of cargo and passenger routes. That agreement is bringing new freighter flights to Pacific lanes this year, adding huge new capacity for shippers. The United States and India struck an open skies agreement for cargo just this month, spurred by India's growing profile in global supply chains.

The Boeing-Airbus agreement is great for Boeing and Airbus, but the rest of the manufacturers and shippers on both sides of the Atlantic should press for a cargo pact that would be even better news for them.