Boeing set to land dollars 5bn China order: US decision on trade status paves way for sales

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BOEING appears close to selling China another dollars 5bn worth of commercial aircraft, following yesterday's decision by President Bill Clinton to renew Peking's tariff status as a 'most-favoured nation'.

Word of the potential sale to Air China, which could total 50 aircraft, was leaked to the US business press on the eve of the trade- status announcement, apparently to warn Washington against attaching conditions to the renewal.

The Chinese government had said it would not accept any linking of trade with human-rights demands by Washington. There were reports that Air China was prepared to order its jets from the Airbus consortium if the tariff preference was not renewed.

The sale - which would add to dollars 3bn worth of Boeing aircraft already on order from other regional Chinese airlines - would include 15 of its new wide-bodied 777 model, and equal numbers of the narrow 757 and smaller 737 planes. Air China, based in Peking, would also buy several 747- 400 jumbo jets.

Some analysts expressed concern yesterday that the negotiations might lag now that the trade- status issue had been resolved.

Boeing said it was premature to speculate about an order. 'Certainly China has been a very good customer of ours in the past. We have continued to work very closely with the Chinese and would look forward to future success with them,' a spokesman said.

China has been Boeing's biggest customer over the past two years, accounting for about one out of every seven planes ordered from the company at a time when Western airlines have curtailed their orders because of the industry downturn.