The U.S. and European Union are close to agreeing on how to share commercially sensitive data on Boeing and Airbus, a prerequisite to arbitration...

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The U.S. and European Union are close to agreeing on how to share commercially sensitive data on Boeing and Airbus, a prerequisite to arbitration over subsidies to the two aircraft makers at the World Trade Organization.

The Geneva-based WTO agreed on July 20 to investigate billions of dollars of development aid to Boeing and Airbus, after the U.S. and EU filed countersuits aiming to bar future subsidies to the world’s biggest commercial plane makers.

Before the WTO can do so, the two sides need to agree what company and government records each will make available to the other.

The problem, as the EU said in a statement to the WTO yesterday, is that it “requires a meeting of minds,” as well as facilitators to referee an access accord. The EU and U.S. have “narrowed our differences” and expect an agreement “very soon,” the EU said. An initial case may last at least a year.

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Boeing’s 250-seat 787, to be introduced in 2008, has benefited from a combined $5 billion in assistance, according to the EU. The U.S. says European governments have provided up to a third of the cost of Airbus projects in the past, with the money being paid back with interest only if the aircraft is a commercial success.

Toulouse, France-based Airbus says it will need to invest an additional 4.5 billion euros ($5.5 billion) to bring its rival A350 to market and has already requested funding from the U.K., France, Spain and Germany.

The U.S. said the EU has “regrettably” been blocking efforts to agree how to swap data.

The process “provides a way for both parties, as well as the panel, to have access to relevant information,” the U.S. said yesterday in a statement to the WTO.